Findings on spending at State-run education board referred to Garda
Investigation highlights flawed tender processes at Kildare Wicklow ETB
Seán Ashe, former chief executive of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The findings of an investigation into the spending of taxpayers’ money at a State-run Education and Training Board (ETB) have been referred to the Garda for further investigation.
The report by Dr Richard Thorn is highly critical of the board and its then chief executive’s handling of a range of issues, such as the disclosure of family ties to companies hired by the organisation.
His report also highlights inconsistencies surrounding procurement issues, flawed tender processes and the breach of official guidelines regarding public spending decisions.
One aspect of the investigation examines the use of an ETB-rented property by a company connected through a family member to then chief executive Seán Ashe.
The company in question charged the ETB just over €32,000 for works carried out to convert a former dog food factory into a training facility in late 2015 and early 2016.
The company was then allowed to use the premises in return for a rent waiver against work undertaken for a period of about 10 months.
The investigation found no evidence to suggest a tender took place, other than a tender report submitted two years after, and days before a deadline issued by the investigator for documentation.
Dr Thorn’s report says he was unable to identify the authenticity of the tender report and forwarded the matter to the Garda’s National Economic Crime Bureau.
The Department of Education has since referred the report in full to the Garda.
Mr Ashe did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
In another case, the report highlights the “flawed manner” in which the then chief executive appeared to fast-track urgent works at school, which triggered higher costs for the taxpayer.
The report states that only one company responded to the tender, with which the board’s then chief executive had a family connection. The tender evaluation process also appeared flawed, the report found.
When a dispute later arose over costs for the project, it found that the chief executive’s verbal request for the project to be speeded up at a time when another board representative was seeking to hold the firm to the terms of its contracts was “ill-conceived” and increased difficulties in agreeing a final price.
The then chief executive’s decision to personally agree a final figure in the absence of the board representative was also “ill-conceived” and breached official guidelines.
In all, the report makes more than 20 findings and 15 recommendations to be implemented by the ETB.
In a statement, Minister for Education Richard Bruton – who commissioned the report – said all of the State’s 16 ETBs are being asked to review their governance and confirm whether any similar issues arise in their organisations.
“The report makes a number of findings in relation to matters which I consider to be of serious concern,” he said.
“I strongly believe that effective governance and accountability in the public sector is crucial to provide confidence in relation to the use of valuable public resources.”
He said there must be confidence that there are appropriate governance arrangements in place and robust scrutiny that these are operating effectively.
“It is essential that KWETB makes all necessary efforts to address all of the issues raised,” he said.
Last year, KWETB had a budget of €129 million with 2,500 employees. It catered for just under 30,000 students.