Watchdog Wants to Know: What Happened to Haifa Bay Watch?

In mid-2004, the Haifa municipality began renovating manufacturing and commercial plants in the bay area, investing some NIS 55 million in improving infrastructure, development and the area's appearance.

But a recently released report from the State Comptroller's Office indicates Yefe Nof, the municipally-owned company charged with carrying out the works, presented the tender committee with higher fees for the project than those planners had indicated earlier.

The report states planners had estimated the projects would cost NIS 170,000, while the municipality asked for NIS 300,000 from the tender committee.

Yefe Nof, after being given the project, obtained the services of outside contractors and developers, but not one document was found at the company delineating the method by which the planners were selected, says the comptroller's report.

The two sites in question - the so-called "Marble compound" and "Check Post" - are home to hundreds of manufacturing and commercial facilities that have been neglected for years, leading to an exodus of legitimate businesses, which were replaced by escort services and other criminal activity. In light of this trend, the municipality decided to restore the area so as to draw new businesses to the area and keep those still operating from closing their doors.

The comptroller's report found that while the contractors were chosen through a public tender, planners were not selected by such a procedure, and company files shed no light on the method or reasons behind the selection of certain planners over others.

"The absence of documents violates proper administrative regulations and compromises both transparency and internal control procedures," the report states. Eventually nine planners were chosen to design infrastructure works at the two sites.

The report also raises questions about Yefe Nof's actions toward those very planners and to the company's tender committee. State Comptroller's Office officials found that between December 2004 and April 2005, planners submitted estimates for the prospective projects, and three months later, the demands were submitted for the tender committee's approval. However, the figures "presented to the tender committee were higher than those listed in the contract signed by planners, often by significant margins," the report states.

Yefe Nof representatives told Haaretz that "like at many other public companies, clear regulations are in place for choosing planners. Following the comptroller's report these regulations have been enhanced further. Planners' salaries are determined by the rates set by the Engineers Association, and are not a consideration in their selection."