Israel: State Comptroller Targets Local Government

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Perhaps the best official national watchdog is the State Comptroller’s Office, which continues to release comprehensive well-researched reports monitoring various areas of Israeli life. Unfortunately, these reports do little else but to provide content for the written and electronic media for a number of days, and they are then ceremoniously placed in a slot on a shelf in a government office, never to be addressed again.

The latest report, released on Wednesday (25 March) investigates local government, sounding the alarm in many areas, including safety concerns in the nation’s playgrounds.

The report released by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss sites safety deficiencies in 20,000 playgrounds around the country. According to the law, the local governments are responsible for the construction and maintenance of playgrounds. Actually, the Ministry of Industry & Trade is responsible to conduct a statistical analysis pertaining to the condition of playgrounds annually, which includes assuring the play areas conform to the Standards Institute, working in concert with institute officials.

If serious flaws are detected, the institute may issue a directive to the local government to make immediate repairs, or even remove the playground or order it closed pending corrective measures.

The law calls for allocating 10sq. meter per person of open area, but in Bnei Brak and Um el-Fahm for example, the actual figure is closer to 3sq. meter per person.

According to a HaMevaser report, the access paths to many playgrounds are not what they should be, some posing safety hazards. Five local municipalities were scrutinized in 2007-2008. Eleven playgrounds were found under high voltage lines, compelling government to order them shutdown.

Many lack water fountains, shade and other basics demanded under the law. In 2006-2007, the Interior Ministry and Housing Ministry allocated NIS 9 million for the purchase of playground equipment. In some cases, local government failed to act properly and some of the playgrounds were ordered shut down by the Standards Institute. They were deemed “too dangerous for use”, resulting in more waste of public funds.

The state comptroller laments that fact that when the investigation was closed in May 2008, the Standards Institute had not yet established guidelines for playgrounds, further complicating compliance and enforcement.

At least 150 local municipalities and cities have not even bothered calling on standards inspectors to visit their city and inspect public playgrounds as they are expected to do. The report cites that inspections of 50 playgrounds were conducted in February – April 2008, and 95% were deemed totally unsafe of having many safety hazards compelling immediate corrective action. There were 1,200 playground related emergency rooms visits recorded nationwide in 2006. An important note cited in the report is that children under kindergarten age are not covered by school insurance policies if they are injured in playgrounds.

In 2006, there were 269 hospital admissions up to age 17 resulting from playground accidents, including 120 from falls.

The State Comptroller’s Office concludes that the various ministries working with the Mifal HaPayis Lottery Commission, which pays for many of the playgrounds, should work in concert to obtain guarantees from local government to maintain playgrounds. This must be done prior to building them. The state comptroller also calls on the appropriate government agencies and the attorney general to ensure that if administrative orders of closure of demanding repair are handed to local government, that corrective action is taken or the attorney general must step in.

(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)

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