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Special Knesset Finance C’tee team to ensure damages paid to residents of South

A team of MKs will closely follow the Tax Authority’s implementation of the government’s aid package to the South, Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) announced Tuesday, after the panel approved part of the payments.

Slomiansky appointed MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), Elazar Stern (Hatnua) and Michal Biran (Labor) to keep track of the damage payments and benefit packages and be in contact with business owners in the South to help them get through government bureaucracy.

“I want the Tax Authority to know that the Finance Committee is following this issue,” Slomiansky said.

The Finance Committee also voted to approve damage payments to businesses dealing with tourism and agriculture, as well as restaurants – though the subject of agriculture sparked arguments between the MKs and ministry representatives.

“The government decided not to shoot down missiles [using the Iron Dome] that land in open areas, and that has consequences. It causes damages, and there needs to be a solution,” explained Yishai Folk of the Farmers’ Union. “Farmers have to prove their income and damages, and in the end the chances that a farmer will get what the government is supposed to give him are slim.”

Eli Aharon of the Vegetable Growers’ Union said that the Tax Authority hadn’t learned from operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense and that people were not sufficiently compensated for damages.

A Tax Authority representative, Shirley Avivi, said that agriculture was a complex issue and that the Agriculture Ministry needed to come up with guidelines for damages.

However, Zvika Cohen, the Agriculture Ministry’s deputy director-general for funding and investments, said he was not working with the Tax Authority.

“The property tax department is responsible for paying damages, and it chose to work with an external adviser,” he said. “I would be happy to be involved, but I’m not, despite the fact that this operation harmed massive amounts of land….

The main problem is that winter is coming, and the first rain, and the land is not yet taken care of. This will cause heavy damages.”

MK Zvulun Kalfa (Bayit Yehudi) said the exclusion of the Agriculture Ministry was unacceptable and scandalous, arguing that the damage to agriculture was massive and that the Tax Authority was not taking farmers seriously.

“When a greenhouse is hit, there is damage to the building, the plants and the product. [The Finance Ministry] pays for the building immediately, but not for the plants, and then later, not for the decreased output. There are a lot of problems,” Kalfa lamented.

The Bayit Yehudi MK emphasized that the priority should be to prepare the land for agriculture activity again.

MKs also complained that the Tax Authority representatives in the meeting were not bringing sufficient information about the number of people applying for aid, how many had received advances and how many requests had yet to be addressed.

David Rotenberg, the head of the Tax Authority’s damages department, had said that there were 1,835 applications for aid in the areas the Finance Committee had discussed, amounting to NIS 114 million, and over 5,000 applications in total. The final date to apply is December 20.

As for advances, 2,724 businesses applied, 27 percent of which were for indirect damages – meaning economic damage from days of work missed and loss of customers – amounting to NIS 108m. Over half of the applications for advances have already been handled, he said.

However, MK Hamed Amer (Yisrael Beytenu) said it was unclear how the Tax Authority decided who deserved aid and who did not, and why restaurants and places of entertainment were separate from tourism.

“Why does most of the NIS 500m. for damages go to hotels?” asked Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata.

“We need to fix the plan so that small businesses will benefit from it and not just giant tourism businesses,” Labor’s Biran suggested.

Restaurants’ Union director- general Shai Berman said that half of the NIS 40 billion the country brought in from tourism each year went to restaurants, and that this income had gone down 70% over the summer, but the government was only helping the big businesses.

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