Finance staff went home to find out what was in budget, banking inquiry told

Only 39 of 542 staff were senior economists at Department of Finance in 2010

Joe Higgins said that the voices of, for example, those who had to take out 40-year mortgages to buy a home, were missing from Rob Wright’s report.

Joe Higgins said that the voices of, for example, those who had to take out 40-year mortgages to buy a home, were missing from Rob Wright’s report.

 

Staff at the department of finance had to go home to see what was in the budget, a witness at the banking inquiry has said. Canadian expert Rob Wright, who prepared a report on the department in 2010, said he found that “incredible”.

“Why did they not know what was in the budget? They are in the department of finance,” he said.

Mr Wright was giving evidence at the Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis.

He said staff at the department “were not connected clearly enough to the sense of purpose” of senior managers.

“One has to modernise the management regime in this department so people are connected,” he said.

He described the “management framework” in the department as “quite weak” and said it needed to be “strengthened substantially”. There were some very good people not being fully utilised, he said.

At the time of his report, Strengthening the Capacity of the Department of Finance, there were 542 staff in the department and only 39 were economists.

“I was really surprised at the limited number of senior economists,” he said. Part of the problem was that skilled economists moved out to set up the National Treasury Management Agency and “without the expertise the department did not have the capacity to seriously question some of the regulatory decisions being made”.

Mr Wright’s report recommended doubling the number of senior economists and some staff felt threatened by that.

“They haven’t quite done that . . . [of 300] it now has over 100 employees with an economics background, almost half of them at masters level.”

He said there should be graduate recruitment into the department every year.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins pointed out that the voices of, for example, those who had to take out 40-year mortgages to buy a home, were missing from Mr Wright’s report.

Mr Wright said he would not deny Mr Higgins’s perspective and said people being incentivised to enter the market using all of their savings and their family’s savings was “a real human tragedy”. Senator Marc MacSharry (Fianna Fáil) asked if he was surprised the European Central Bank had refused to attend the banking inquiry.

“I didn’t know that was an option,” Mr Wright responded.