The State Comptroller’s follow-up report on the Binyamin Regional Council
Following the State Comptroller’s report last November, which found many flaws in the conduct of the Binyamin Regional Council, including the funding of political associations, the preparation of favorable criteria for specific organizations, and the injecting public funds into political activity, the State Comptroller this week published a follow-up report with serious findings.
- Financing and promoting construction in outposts – The Binyamin Regional Council finances and promotes illegal construction in illegal outposts, in violation of Israeli law and procedures, and sometimes on private Palestinian land.
- Government funding for illegal construction – Many government ministries transfer funds to illegal projects to the Council without examining their legality.
- Certification of non-governmental organizations – The plenum of the Council approves Non-recurring expenses (NREs) as a rubber stamp without discussing and examining them as required.
- Lack of transparency and concealment of budgets – Some of the Council’s reports on the NREs lack vital details about the location of the given project, and the list of NREs published on the council’s website does not include all the NREs and is only updated till 2014.
Peace Now: “What we have is a deliberate and long-standing method of financing illegal projects with public funds, and establishing facts on the ground with far-reaching ramifications for the State of Israel, and in violation of the law and basic rules of proper administration. This is part of a phenomenon that exists in other local authorities in the West Bank, and it receives the backing of various government ministries. It is time for the Interior Ministry and the other relevant government ministries to exercise their authority to stop this illegal construction in the settlements. It is time for those settler leaders responsible for this abuse of power to stand trial and to be required to pay their debts to the public. Only when the criminals are required to pay for their actions will it be possible to stop this illegal phenomenon.”
More about the outposts and illegal construction financing by other authorities can be read in the Peace Now report, “Unraveling the Mechanism behind Illegal Outposts.”
Budgets for outposts and illegal construction Non-recurring expenses (NREs)
According to the State Comptroller’s examination, some of the NREs that the council operated were transferred to illegal outposts, which by their very definition are forbidden to be built. Among others, the comptroller notes projects in Givat Harel, Esh Kodesh, Mitzpe Asaf, Mitzpe Danny, Kerem Re’im, Kida, Adi Ad, Ahiya and other outposts.
In total, according to Civil Administration figures given to the comptroller, there are about 30 illegal outposts within the Binyamin Regional Council. According to the comptroller, “The activities of the council must be viewed with great severity as a public body, entrusted with maintaining the law, which is acting illegally and is permitting illegal construction in the outposts.”
The comptroller also quotes a 2008 report from the Ministry of the Interior: “How can a local authority that carries out building violations itself demand that its residents abide by the provisions of the law and take steps to enforce them?”
The comptroller vehemently rejects the council’s claims that the projects under scrutiny are only essential services such as kindergartens and roads, and that they are permitted because there is an intention to retroactively approve these outposts in the future. The comptroller notes that the children can be taken to a legal kindergarten, and that a project such as a promenade built between Talmon and Neria cannot be considered a “vital” project. It also noted that the fact that there may be an intention to approve the outposts in the future does not give them permission to build in them before attaining the necessary approvals.
The comptroller issued a comment to the Interior Ministry on its approvals of NREs without examining whether they were lawful: “In view of the serious flaws described above, the State Comptroller’s Office recommends that the [Interior Ministry] director consider checking whether there are statutory approvals [to the projects funded by the NREs].”
Government funding for illegal construction
According to the State Comptroller’s examination, government ministries participate in the financing of illegal projects throughout the Binyamin Regional Council, in spite of the legal advisor’s directive in 2003, which states, among other things, “Regarding the issue of the illegal outposts … it is obvious that the allocation or transfer of government funds must be made only after the land has been properly allocated and all building permits have been duly granted by the relevant authorities.”
The Ministry of Housing financed the planning of master plans for settlements and outposts in 2014 at a cost of NIS 14 million, including the outposts of Kerem Re’im and the Zeit Ra’anan. In addition, in 2016 the Ministry financed NIS 4.6 million to put together master plans throughout the council’s jurisdiction, including the illegal outpost of Kerem Re’im.
As the comptroller explains, “When it finances plans in unauthorized communities, it becomes a partner to the [Binyamin] council in the legalization of unauthorized construction activities.”
The Ministry of the Interior financed “restoring roads” in the Givat Harel and Esh Kodesh outposts in the amount of NIS 1 million.
The Ministry of Defense financed the installation of a camera in the outpost of Givat Assaf for NIS 270,000.
The Ministry of Education participated in the financing of caravans (probably for an educational institution) in the outposts of Kida, Adi Ad, Ahiya, and Bnei Adam, for an unknown amount. The comptroller notes that the Ministry of Education acted contrary to the demand “that it itself set a procedure for releasing funds for the construction of educational institutions, according to which the local authority must present a building permit from the relevant authority for the purpose of receiving funding from it.”
The Ministry of Agriculture participated in financing a promenade between the settlement of Talmon and Neria, some of which passes through private Palestinian land, to the tune of NIS 1 million, three months after a final demolition order was issued for the works on this promenade. The Ministry of the Interior subsequently approved another NIS 250,000 to the NRE.
The Ministry of Transport financed illegal bicycle paths (some of which pass through private land) amounting to NIS 1.7 million. The Jewish National Fund (i.e. KKL) added NIS 1.6 million to the project, although the Ministry of Transport claims that it financed 90% of the project.
The comptroller noted that the government ministries are involved in funding projects that another government agency—the Civil Administration—has been forced to issue demolition orders for. The comptroller examined four outposts (Adi Ad, Kida, Esh Kodesh and Ahiya) and found that between 1999 and 2015, demolition orders were issued for 24 public buildings, and that with only one exception, all are still standing. The comptroller visited the area and discovered that the signs in the area indicate the council’s involvement in the construction of these illegal structures.
Approval of Non-recurring expenses (NREs) without following procedure:
The comptroller found that the Binyamin Regional Council approves many NREs each year. According to the auditor’s review in 2016, the council implemented 533 NREs at a monetary volume of NIS 1 billion. Although the procedures clearly stipulate that the plenum of the council must examine and approve these budgets, it turns out that the plenum served as a sort of rubber stamp for approval of the list of NREs that was brought for approval.
Lack of transparency and attempts to conceal the facts:
The State Comptroller notes that some of the NREs are not detailed and do not indicate the precise location of the project. The study found that the council established many educational institutions in illegal outposts between 2008 and 2012, but that “some of them were presented in the council’s lists of NREs under general names, from which it is impossible to understand exactly where the project was carried out.”
The State Comptroller found that the Binyamin Regional Council does not operate transparently, and does not allow access to full information about its budgets. The comptroller referred the criticism to a list of NREs published on the council’s website, stating: “It was found that the list is not complete and it is not clear what the criteria for choosing the NREs would be. Apart from this, there are no advertised details such as the sponsor of the budget, and in some of them, the location of the project is not known. ”
It should be noted that the list appeared on the Council’s website following a petition by Peace Now against the Binyamin Regional Council, demanding that it receive the full list of NREs. In response to the petition, the council uploaded the list to the website and informed the court that the list was on the website. It turns out that the list was partial, and in fact the council deceived the court when it claimed that all of the requested information was indeed transferred and made available for the public.