Comptroller slams ‘scandalous’ delays, waste of public funds in renovating PM residence

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman says NIS 56 million has been spent unnecessarily in securing private residences for Netanyahu, Bennett, Lapid while construction underway

Pedestrians on Balfour Street, in the section closed to cars, with the Prime Minister's Residence behind them, December 24, 2021. (David Horovitz/Times of Israel)
Pedestrians on Balfour Street, in the section closed to cars, with the Prime Minister's Residence behind them, December 24, 2021. (David Horovitz/Times of Israel)

The State Comptroller’s Office on Tuesday released a report slamming a decade of inefficiency and delays in renovating the official Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, which has led to tens of millions of shekels being spent on securing private homes for successive prime ministers.

In a statement, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman harshly criticized the “scandalous conduct” that has led to a “waste of public funds,” adding that 10 years of delays in implementing a project to replace or renovate the official residence, located on Balfour Street in the capital, have led to major unnecessary spending.

The report states that NIS 56 million ($15 million) in public funds has been spent on renovating and securing private homes for Israeli leaders in recent years, including NIS 27 million ($7.3 million) for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, NIS 25 million ($6.7 million) for former prime minister Naftali Bennett (who served for one year), and NIS 4 million ($1.1 million) on former prime minister Yair Lapid (who held the role for six months).

It would have been preferable, Englman said, for the state to purchase an alternate apartment for the prime minister that would be adequately secured and could be used by any leader, rather than spending tens of millions of sunk costs in work on private residences.

Though a plan to establish a new official residence was agreed to in 2014, the proposal has been amended and delayed repeatedly since, and largely shelved in favor of renovating the current building. Work on the current residence did not begin until Netanyahu departed the residence in July 2021, more than a month after he was ousted from office by a coalition headed by Bennett.

Since then, renovations have been underway at the building complex in Jerusalem, and while in office, Bennett remained in his family residence in Ra’anana. Lapid lived largely in Tel Aviv during his tenure as prime minister. It is not clear how much work has progressed on the renovations in the past three years, though Netanyahu has not lived in the residence since he returned to office in December 2022, largely splitting his time between his private homes in Caesarea and Jerusalem. The comptroller said renovations are slated to be completed by the end of 2025.

View of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private residence on Azza Street in Jerusalem, January 18, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In response to the report, Netanyahu’s office sought to place the blame squarely on Lapid and Bennett.

“There is one basic question: Why was it necessary to raze the official Balfour residence and why did Bennett choose to live in his private residence in Ra’anana for an entire year before the official residence was razed by Lapid,” the PMO said in a statement.

Netanyahu’s office blamed the “puzzling and unnecessary decision” made by the previous government to knock out the internal structure of the official residence, claiming it went beyond the original renovation plans, which he said “would have taken a few months, and not years, and saved the country tens of millions of shekels.”

There was no immediate comment from Bennett or Lapid on the report or the response from the PMO.

Englman, however, pointed to some failures that he blamed directly on the current Netanyahu government.

“Even in a time of war, I didn’t receive an explanation as to why millions and millions of shekels are being spent on securing the private residences of Netanyahu,” said Englman in a statement, noting that the prime minister was not living in his private home on Azza Street in the early weeks of the war since it was not deemed suitably secure.

Englman said the Prime Minister’s Office “did not provide an explanation for why — instead of wasting tens of millions of shekels which go down the drain on renovating private properties,” the PMO did not instead purchase an alternate apartment in Jerusalem that will be owned by the government and can be used by any prime minister once it is suitably secured.

“The current reality cannot continue,” added Englman.

The comptroller’s report also noted that despite a plan to initiate renovations on the Balfour residence put in place in 2018, no work began until three years later, when the Netanyahus departed the building after living there for 12 consecutive years. Part of the delay, the report said, stemmed from a disagreement over the funding for renovations for the family’s private residence in Caesarea. Even after such renovations were carried out, the report said, the Netanyahus did not leave the official residence to allow for work to begin there.

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