The Irish Times view on the PAC report – mismanagement still too common

A clear need for better accountability in the spending on public money

The report spotlights the lack of accountability for flawed decision-making and incompetence in the public service. This was highlighted in spectacular style in the past week with the disclosure in the Irish Times that a high-tech printer costing €808,000 ordered for use in the Dáil could not be installed for almost a year because it did not fit inside the building due to incorrect measurements.

The report spotlights the lack of accountability for flawed decision-making and incompetence in the public service. This was highlighted in spectacular style in the past week with the disclosure in the Irish Times that a high-tech printer costing €808,000 ordered for use in the Dáil could not be installed for almost a year because it did not fit inside the building due to incorrect measurements.

 

The mismanagement of public money in important areas and the knock on impact that has on people who need the assistance of State agencies has been revealed in the latest report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). One of the most serious problems it uncovered was the fact that the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, has left 6,000 children without a social worker. The report said the Department of Children should work harder to ensure gaps in the system are eliminated. It also questioned if contracts with private agencies to provide residential and foster care to children were appropriately managed. These contacts provided services to 260 children at a cost of €100 million.

Another issue highlighted in the report is a sharp rise in the cost of emergency accommodation for asylum seekers in the past year. The total cost of emergency accommodation in 2018 was €960,000 but the PAC found that the Department of Justice had spent €3.7 million on hotels in the first three months of 2019 alone. If the trend continues, the cost for this year will be €15 million, a significant increase. Part of the problem is that almost 800 people who have been granted permission to reside in Ireland are still living in direct provision, which results in newer applications being housed in more expensive hotel accommodation.

The PAC also expressed concern that the Apple Escrow Fund administered by the National Treasury Management Agency declined in value by €16 million – to €14.2 billion – in the first nine months of its operation in 2018 due to a conservative investment strategy. The committee recommended that the strategy be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure the fund’s long-term value is maintained.

The escalation in the number and cost of claims against the State, particularly in the health services, is a serious drain on State resources and the report criticises the absence of a systems-wide approach in the Health Service Executive to tackle this.

These and other issues raised in the report put the spotlight on the lack of accountability for flawed decisionmaking and incompetence in the public service. This was highlighted in spectacular style in the past week with the disclosure in the Irish Times that a high tech printer costing €808,000 ordered for use in the Dáil could not be installed for almost a year because it did not fit inside the building due to incorrect measurements.

Building alterations costing €230,000 had to be carried out to allow the printer to be installed, but now that it is in place Oireachtas staff are refusing to operate it until they get extra pay for doing so. So far there has been no explanation as to how such a fundamental mistake could have been made and who is responsible for it. This lack of accountability for such a cavalier waste of public money is not acceptable.

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