Office of former WIT president chartered flight for €4,200

 

THE OFFICE of the former president at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) chartered an aircraft to transport a visitor from Waterford to Dublin at a cost of €4,200, according to a report on spending at the college between 2004 and 2011.

The report details how Prof Kieran Byrne defended his practice of using taxis for round trips between Dublin and Waterford because this was more economical than mileage expenses and an overnight stay. He said taxis had to be used in some instances “when work needed to be done in a discreet environment when travelling”.

The Deloitte and Touche report, dated May 2011 and released to thestory.iewebsite under FOI, was carried out for the institute’s governing body.

The report says it considers the taxi expenditure is “potentially in breach of the travel policy which requires that such spending is only used when public transport is not available”.

It details a range of spending including €290,000 on hospitality expenses, €263,000 on travel expenses, €134,000 on fine art and €18,400 on flowers. It details a payment to Bell Airways for the “charter of a plane to transport a visitor from Waterford to Dublin in 2007”.

The report says Prof Byrne did not seek formal pre-approval of travel expenses as required under the institute’s travel policy. “He also stated that the taxi was not solely for his own use but was made available to other staff. We have been unable to verify this . . . as the invoices do not contain sufficient detail on the purpose of the journey or the people involved.”

It also highlights a failure to comply with policies in relation to hospitality and travel expenses and in relation to tendering procedures.

It says a taxi service run by Martin and Eleanor Power was the main provider of taxis to the college at a cost of €129,000 but this contract “was not tendered for”.

Deloitte recommended the governing body should examine the “appropriateness” of other spending including a payment of more than €45,000 to the artist Pauline Bewick to cover expenses incurred in cataloguing her collection and the purchase of a Bewick painting for €7,500.

Last year, the institute’s board did not extend Prof Byrne’s 10-year term. The move came after intervention from Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and chief executive of the Higher Education Authority Tom Boland.

Prof Byrne – who earned €156,000 a year – retired on full pension. He signalled his intention to take legal action to challenge his removal as president.

Last year, Dr Ruaidhrí Neavyn replaced Prof Byrne as president. The institute said last night that improved procedures, policies and controls had been put in place since Deloitte reported.

The Higher Education Authority said it was monitoring spending at the institute closely to ensure that there was no repetition of the weakness highlighted in the Deloitte report.