Zeiler Committee Stunned' by Construction Chaos

More than two and a half years after the ceiling collapsed at the Versailles wedding hall in Jerusalem, killing 23 people, the five-member commission of inquiry established to examine building safety yesterday handed its 400-page report to the government.

At a press conference in the capital yesterday, the authors of the report headed by Jerusalem District Court president Judge Vardi Zeiler, warned the government that the construction sector was in a state of chaos. "We very quickly discovered," said Zeiler, "that the construction industry in Israel is under-supervised in every respect." According to Zeiler, the planning and construction laws are not uniform and contain dozens of contradictions. He added that the large number of government offices involved in regulating construction has led to the existence of complex and often contradictory instructions.

Zeiler told the press conference that the report, which was compiled after hundreds of witnesses had testified and thousands of pages of transcripts were recorded, is an attempt to regulate the activity in the industry and, insofar as possible, to centralize supervision by means of a series of recommendations, including the establishment of a Construction Ministry to centralize all building and planning work. Zeiler added that, if the report were implemented in full, the construction industry could be fully regulated and tragedies such as Versailles could be avoided.

Fate of report `not in doubt'

When asked, however, if he believed that the report would be implement, Zeiler replied that past experience had shown him that the findings of official commissions of inquiry are not usually implemented. "There can be little doubt about the fate of this report," he said, but added that he hoped the recommendations would influence those involved in the industry during the coming years.

The report submitted yesterday to the government specifies a series of problems related to the construction industry, and proposes solutions to them. In the first section of the report, the authors write that they were "stunned" by the sheer lack of order in the construction industry, and also recommended private and professional standards offices should be established to tighten supervision of planning and construction.

"The poisoned chalice of flaws that the construction industry is drowning in, is overflowing," the panel wrote, to such an extent that it did not have the room to detail all the problems. Zeiler said that only a "genius or a crazy person" could make sense of the disorganized and internally contradictory construction laws. "The entire system [of construction laws] is a system that is flawed to its core," he said. "Someone who wants to know what [type of] stairs to put in some place has no way of knowing ... Only a genius or a crazy person can be familiar with this kind of thing."

Unified body

The members of the panel also recommended that steps be taken to establish a unified body, free of conflict of interests, to ensure that the construction laws are implemented. The authority to issue injunctions against construction, or to order the demolition of unsafe buildings, should be in the hands of a regional prosecutor, who would act in accordance with reports prepared by local inspectors.

According to the report, the local inspectors would be empowered to enforce the national building and planning laws, and would operate both on complaints from the public and on its own initiative. The inspectors would also be responsible for enforcing court orders.

The commission also reported that, so far, even decisions the government made in the wake of the Versailles tragedy have not been strictly carried out.

The commission found that a special engineering team set up by the government following the release of the commission's interim report into the faults of the Pal-Kal building method - by which the Versailles hall was built - practically never meets. The committee called on the government to find a way to make sure that this team does its job. The panel also said that it would be a "miracle" if there was not another Pal-Kal disaster in the coming years.