Officials and 'systemic failures' in department criticised

 

CIVIL SERVICE:SIGNIFICANT CRITICISMS of the Department of Communications and individual civil servants are contained in the Moriarty tribunal report.

“Systemic failures” within the department, along with Michael Lowry’s actions, are blamed for the breaching of confidentiality that was supposed to surround the process by which the second mobile phone licence was awarded. The report accused some civil servants of failing to engage adequately with the inquiry and claimed the process “lost its bearings”.

Greater precautions should have been taken to segregate those conducting the evaluation of bids from their “political master”, the report states. The absence of the secretary general from the department for most of the process “facilitated” interaction between Mr Lowry and less senior and experienced officials conducting the evaluation.

The tribunal said it was understandable but regrettable that its inquiries were met, with exceptions, with “a degree of engagement on the part of department personnel that fell significantly short of what should have been forthcoming”.

It acknowledged that it was “personally and professionally discomforting” for the officials to find themselves, through no fault of their own, at the intersection of an irregular and improper relationship between politics and business, in the person of Mr Lowry and Denis O’Brien. “It is Mr Lowry and Mr O’Brien who were at fault, and had either of them seen fit to respond to the tribunal’s inquiries openly and honestly, those officials would have been spared the spectre of public scrutiny of their actions.”

The report also pointed out that while the process was supposed to be confidential, this principle was breached on a series of occasions. Any disclosure of information should have been an exceptional course rather than a “discretionary initiative” undertaken by an individual member.

The report outlined a series of “inadequacies and shortcomings” in the process, including a failure to follow the model chosen to evaluate bids, the exclusion of the quantitative limb of evaluation and a reliance on the qualitative evaluation of bids as the sole determinant. It also criticised the “irregular” application of different weightings to the three constituent features of the main criterion, saying this distorted the outcome in favour of Esat Digifone.

Another change that favoured the company arose when financial capability, which was supposed to be a key criterion, was rendered immaterial.

The report said it was intended that the evaluation would be conducted by a project group of 10 department officials, advised by outside consultants. However, as matters proceeded, that intention was “eroded incrementally” to the point that the project group became redundant and critical decisions were made by a small subset of its membership. It said the balance of matters evaluated was substantially determined by two officials.