Secrecy over 'disciplining' of man with €50m budget

 

ANALYSIS:WHILE THE public debate about expenditure by Fás has focused around a hairdressing bill and expensive flights to Florida, it is expenditure of a much higher order that is at the centre of the ongoing inquiry by the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Over the period 2000 to 2004 the then director of Fás corporate affairs, Greg Craig, had a total budget of approximately €50 million. He reported to the former assistant director general Gerry Pyke, now retired, and director general Rody Molloy, who resigned on Tuesday.

A special internal audit inquiry into expenditures in the division in the period found multiple instances of people and companies getting substantial contracts without having to tender, questionable levels of expenditure on certain tasks, and troubling relationships between Craig and people benefiting from Fás contracts.

Darragh O'Brien (FF) yesterday listed a few items from the internal audit report.

Accounting and consultancy firm OSK got a €45,000 contract without any tendering process, he said. Advertising firm Euro RSCG got a €10,000 contract without a tender. A sales contract of €250,000 for the Opportunities jobs fair one year was twice that of any year before or since, for no obvious reason, he continued. The same company got a €386,000 contract each year in relation to the stands used for the jobs fair.

O'Brien asked: Was the €50 million budget "at the disposal of Greg Craig"?

Assistant director general Christy Cooney replied: "Broadly the answer to the question is yes."

O'Brien said: "Is it credible for anyone to think that it just falls on the head of one individual?"

The committee also heard that the head of information technology in Fás wrote a letter about a disastrous website set up by Craig using an outside company, which cost the authority €1 million.

The letter should have "set alarm bells ringing at a very loud level," PAC chairman Bernard Allen said.

The website was closed down but the recipient of the letter, Donal Sands, had little to say about why the matter was not more fully investigated.

At the time, Craig had been a manager in Fás. A year later, he was promoted to director.

An anonymous letter in 2004 set in train the internal audit inquiry, which took two years to complete.

Craig was disciplined but the authority has said it could not say what happened to him, for legal reasons. He was still in his position when details of the content of the audit report were released to the media, in June. Craig took sick leave.

Róisín Shortall said the disciplinary procedure in Fás offered two options for disciplining Craig. He could either be subjected to some form of suspension, or in the case of a minor transgression, someone would speak to him.

"There wasn't a suspension put in place," Cooney said.

Shortall said she could only conclude that the matter was treated as a minor incident and someone just "had a word with Mr Craig".

"I'm not saying that's factual," Cooney responded.

In the period since the sanction Craig applied for the position of assistant director general, and was placed on a shortlist.

Cooney, who has responsibility for human resources and had a role in the disciplinary procedure taken against Craig, was on the interviewing panel.

Overall, the question as to what level of oversight Craig had been subjected to has not been answered.

The head of the audit committee on the Fás board, Niall Saul, said responsibility for oversight lay at executive, not board level. The inquiries continue.