Jobs embargo 'affecting overseas aid scrutiny'

Fri, Dec 21, 2012, 00:00

A ban on hiring in the Civil Service and a cap on salaries are leaving gaps in tracking money spent in developing countries, the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs has said.

Money for staff should come out of the aid budget if it cannot be found elsewhere, David Cooney told the public accounts committee yesterday.

Because of the large sums being spent on aid, the department should be better staffed, he added. “When you are managing the kind of money we are managing in the development programme I have to say I am concerned we are not able to fill all vacancies we need to fill,” he said.

Qualified staff

“We need properly qualified people. The problem is in some cases we come up against the embargo; in others we come against salary limits,” he added.

In 2011 Ireland allocated €657 million for overseas development aid. Last October aid to Uganda was suspended after it emerged €4 million of Irish funding had gone missing through unauthorised accounts.

“This should not have happened . . . this has been a wake-up call,” said Mr Cooney.

He said he was trying to recruit a chief financial officer who could police how aid was spent. Mr Cooney said as secretary general he was the accounting officer, despite not having any “training whatsoever in accounting”.

Right people

It was vital that the right people were in place “even if what it requires is for us to spend money from the aid budget”, he said.

All spending departments should have a chief financial officer at assistant secretary level, he added. He said such a post would be able to “challenge heads of other divisions on spending”.

The €4 million which went missing in Uganda was due to be repaid in the coming days, Mr Cooney said. He said he would meet Irish ambassadors in February to review the systems for spotting fraud.

Unicef had also unearthed the misappropriation of $700,000 for food for undernourished people paid for by Irish aid, said Brendan Rogers, director general of development co-operation in the Department of Foreign Affairs. The money was repaid by the UN agency, as “our policy is no tolerance for fraud”.