Holding State-supported agencies to account
Oireachtas committees must do more than investigate high-profile public scandals, such as improper governance at the Central Remedial Clinic. If their work is to have lasting and beneficial effect, committees should champion legal change. In particular, they should address the responsibilities of State-funded bodies that draw part of their income from the voluntary/private sector in terms of accountability, transparency and corporate governance.
The public has been appalled by revelations emanating from the CRC on the board’s use of charitable donations and other governance issues involving linked companies. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to invite former board members to give evidence on remuneration and pension arrangements made with former chief executive, Paul Kiely and related issues. Chairman John McGuinness believes this is necessary because previous evidence was found to be conflicting and misleading.
The latest issues being explored by the PAC came to light because of work done by an administrator appointed to CRC by the Health Service Executive. The development emphasises the need for expert, forensic investigation. The PAC’s most successful inquiry was on DIRT and bank-facilitated tax evasion, some 14 years ago. On that occasion, the Comptroller and Auditor General conducted an investigation before the committee held public hearings. Hundreds of millions of euros were recovered by the Revenue Commissioners. But legislative changes were not implemented. Banks continued to misbehave.
A Charities Act was passed – and parked – in 2009. A regulator is to be appointed in the coming months. But the office is unlikely to be fully operational until the end of 2015. Even then, the role of the State and the responsibilities of the boards of public/private companies in terms of accountability and transparency will remain opaque. There is a need for clarity and precision. Evidence for this can be found in responses from Rehab and St Vincent’s Hospital involving executive pay levels. It is likely that other publicly-funded agencies and charities have questions to answer. Likewise, the fundamental inequality of salary top-ups, applied in some cases and not in others, need to be addressed.
The State has facilitated these developments by paying voluntary agencies to provide healthcare and other facilities in the absence of rigorous oversight. Consequently, the boards of such companies claim private-sector status and immunity from regulation, even as they benefit from public funding. Transparency on all fronts, from salary levels to decision-making processes, can be used to rebuild shattered public confidence. Dáil committees can contribute to a momentum for change by prompting the Government to address these deficiencies.