Gardai accepting gifts from tyre company is 'unacceptable'
It is unacceptable for public servants to accept gifts from suppliers because it raises questions of propriety and shakes public confidence in the system, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee has been told.
The committee was examining the Comptroller & Auditor General's Value For Money report on the controversy over the price paid to Advance Pitstop suppliers for Garda tyres. The report found that the Garda overpaid by an estimated €228,552 (£128,000) for tyres and €35,553 (£28,000) for extras such as valves in the period 1998 to 2000.
It also emerged that there were minor inaccuracies in the C&AG's report, but the Comptroller, Mr John Purcell, said this did not invalidate its main findings that there was "a proven loss of economy in the purchase of tyres.
The tendering and procurement procedures did not accord with best practice and there was poor control over payments for tyres".
He said a price comparison showed that the Defence Forces paid a significantly lower price for tyres compared to the Garda.
The secretary-general of the Department of Justice, Mr Tim Dalton, disclosed that Advance Pitstop made two payments of €3,809 (£3,000) to the Garda Boat Club but he was not saying there was anything improper in this.
Personnel in the Garda transport division also went on holidays courtesy of Advance Pitstop. Mr Dalton told the committee that the internal investigations into the controversy found that in 1997 a group of gardaí went to Manchester to see Manchester United play; and there were holidays to Marbella in 1998, Rome in 1999 and the Algarve, Portugal, in 2000.
"It is unacceptable for public servants to accept gifts of this kind," Mr Dalton said. "It shakes public confidence in the system," he said.
Mr Brian Murphy, chairman of the Office of Public Works, said that entertainment could not be accepted nor "gifts or inducements" from any supplier. He added that within the OPW the conditions under which a person could even go to lunch with a supplier would be entirely rare.
The Comptroller, Mr Purcell, said one of the conclusions reached in the report was that the average mileage per set of tyres was too low. Following Garda reservations about this, they re-examined the issue and revised their figures upwards to about 16,000 miles per tyre or 20,000 per set, and in light of the revised figures tyre consumption for the fleet could be regarded as acceptable.
The Garda had also taken issue with a few other points in the report. Mr Purcell said, "I regret the inaccuracies in the report that I have referred to, but I would stress that they do not invalidate the findings for the report when set against the objectives of the examination."
Mr Dalton, for the Department of Justice, also accepted that the errors did not invalidate the report's findings but said that UK patrol-car tyres had an average mileage of 8,000 to 12,000 compared to 15,000 to 20,000 miles in Ireland.
"It could be said that the taxpayer paid a hell of a lot less here than they would have in the UK," he said.
Two criminal investigations into the tyre controversy were under way, and criminality in the matter could not be ruled out. Mr Dalton explained that if they had more people in place they could do more checks.
He said they only became aware of the overspending from media reports. The controversy emerged in the Sunday Business Post in February last year.