The financial damage that was caused to the Israel Electric Corporation in 2020 as a result of illegal connections to the electrical grid was at least NIS 41 million, and the State Comptroller’s report recommends that state agencies cooperate in order to stop the significant and continuous damage that is being done to vital installations in the Negev of key government-owned companies in the economy: the Israel Electric Corporation, Mekorot (national water company) and the Petroleum and Energy Infrastructure Corporation, Public Security Committee Chair MK Merav Ben Ari (Yesh Atid) said Wednesday during a meeting initiated by MKs Amichai Chikli (Yemina) and Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) on safeguarding national infrastructure throughout the Negev.
Committee Chair MK Ben Ari said the State Comptroller’s report recommends that the government agencies and the relevant companies “prepare for the eradication of the phenomenon” with the cooperation of Israel Police.
“The latest State Comptroller report states that the Israel Electric Corporation deals each year with numerous incidents of theft from its facilities in the Negev, mainly of transformers, copper cables and additional equipment. These facilities are apparently the target of metal traders. Between January and June of 2018, 30 illegal hookups to the electrical grid were recorded in just one neighborhood in Rahat,” Committee Chair MK Ben Ari noted.
According to the Nave Medbar Water Corporation, the financial damage caused to the corporation by the theft of some two million cubic meters of water in 2016 stood at NIS 21 million, Committee Chair MK Ben Ari said.
MK Rothman said, “How many pirate gas stations have been shut down? The key is cooperation between all the bodies. Follow the money. We hear of a massive amount of incidents, but I haven’t seen that it leads to indictments or the seizure of equipment.”
Israel Electric Corporation official Alon Halevy said, “There are communities that are recognized by the state, and we connect them to the electrical grid. The problem is with those who have gotten used to not paying. I fear that people will connect illegally.”
Committee Chair MK Ben Ari said, “Even if the Electricity Bill will pass?”
Halevy answered, “I assume so. Even after we connect to the electrical grid, in many instances there are debts or theft, where the payment does not reflect the actual consumption of electricity. In the Negev, there are 12,000 regular Bedouin clients, but more than half [of the Bedouin residents of the Negev] are not.”
Yossi Faran, also of the Israel Electric Corporation, said, “When we come to disconnect an illegal hookup [to the power grid], our workers are in real danger, and they [residents] reconnect within 24 hours.”
MK Yasmin Fridman (Yesh Atid) said the meeting should have been held with the participation of heads of Bedouin local authorities, “so we could ask them: You want development? How are you fighting alongside us? All the residents who want to connect should be connected for half price.”
Alon Biton of the Federation of Local Authorities replied, “Dialogue with the [Bedouin] mayors exists. They are helpless.”
Faran said, “In Rahat, because of internal feuds, the infrastructures we built have been dismantled. This requires intervention at the national level.”
Committee Chair MK Ben Ari summed up the meeting, saying, “Electricity theft has reached unfathomable proportions – more than half of the households in Bedouin communities in the Negev are connected illegally.” She called on the public security minister and the ministry’s director general to find a solution to the problem.
“We want all the residents to have electricity,” Committee Chair MK Ben Ari stated. “One cannot do without it these days. The state must handle this at the strategic level, and not leave it up to the enforcement elements, without support. Electricity must be supplied to everyone, and at the same time, we have to increase enforcement. Two states have been created here – a state in which everyone is connected and pays, and then there are thousands of people who do not pay; a country in which everyone refuels their car in regular gas stations, and communities in which people refuel in pirate gas stations, without paying any excise tax, and without anyone supervising the quality of the fuel or the level of safety.”