Lindenstrauss slams Carmel fire failures
"The number of fire trucks per capita was a quarter of their number abroad."
Lindenstrauss said, "On the day the fire broke out, Israel had 20 tons of fire-fighting chemicals out of the 450 tons that should have been in the emergency inventory. The total number of firefighters per capita in Israel was a quarter of the number in the West. The number of fire trucks per capita was a quarter of their number abroad, and the number of ladders was half the number abroad."
The firefighters union chairman told Lindenstrauss, "The current situation is catastrophic. A fireman in the field has to decide who will live and who will die. Add to this, the remark of the interior minister that the situation is catastrophic, we're talking about human lives, it is no understatement to say that we're talking about a real danger for which the writing was on the wall. The failures require national public attention, and should not be dropped from the agenda."
Lindenstrauss added, "We also mention the responsibility of government ministers. We have stated our opinion, we have weighed the responsibilities of these ministers, and this matter you will read, when the embargo is lifted this afternoon. This report has been sent to the Attorney General."
"44 women and men, a teenager among them, all of them 'the salt of the earth', perished in the huge conflagration on the Carmel. 44 bereaved families whose worlds have been destroyed, who ask, Why?" Thus the special report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on the Carmel fire disaster opens.
The report, delivered this morning to Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, lays out over 500 pages a long series of failures that led to the catastrophic result of the fire. The reports levels sharp criticism at the conduct of Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz and Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai, at the police, the Prison Service, the Fire and Rescue Services, and other individuals and bodies responsible for dealing with large fires, among them local authorities and the defense establishment.
Lindenstrauss finds the chief culprits in the failures that created the conditions for the disaster to be Yishai and Steinitz. The comptroller finds that they bear "special personal responsibility" for the lack of preparedness and the particularly low state of readiness of the Fire and Rescue Services on the eve of the fire breaking out.
The comptroller finds that the two ministers were engaged in brinkmanship for a long period. The minister of finance adhered to a stance of "reform of the firefighting system first" and only after that allocation of budgets for day-to-day running of the service, which cried out for immediate succor, while the minister of the interior understood the desperate state of the firefighting services and the consequent danger to the public, but he too adopted an "all or nothing" approach, demanding hundreds of millions of shekels for a general overhaul of the firefighting service, without identifying the most vital and urgent needs, and he failed to make the effort to find solutions within the framework of the resources available to him.
Despite the responsibility laid on the shoulders of the two ministers, and contrary to expectations, the State Comptroller refrains from giving operative recommendations concerning them, such as removing them from their posts. "The State Comptroller's Office did not find it appropriate to express a view on what might be inferred from their responsibility to the Knesset. This is an inherently political question that should be left to the Knesset and the public to decide," the report states. The comptroller stresses that, in laying responsibility on the ministers, he is not claiming that they bear guilt for the deaths of the 44 victims of the fire. "It is strictly forbidden to make such a claim, for it has no substance," he wrote.
As far as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch are concerned, the report finds that they bear general ministerial responsibility for the disaster, but not personal responsibility. They were office holders who could have influenced the outcome, even if they were not involved in the acts and omissions that led to the disaster.
Concerning Netanyahu, the reports states that for a long time the dispute between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of the Interior was on his desk, and it was up to him to decide between them. However, the report says, "for too long, the prime minister refrained from bringing the full weight of his authority to bear on resolving this dispute, a delay that had serious consequences for the state of readiness of the firefighting force."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 20, 2012
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012
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