Public Accounts Committee
When the Department of Finance appeared at the Public Accounts Committee on 8 May it was a good opportunity for the committee to examine the performance of the Department under the tenure of outgoing Secretary General John Moran, who had announced his resignation the previous day.
I chose to look at how Mr Moran had reformed the Department in light of the independent recommendations made by the Wright Report following the economic collapse. You can watch this session here.
Later I examined some of the headline figures and targets as contained in the Department’s Strategy For Growth (Medium Term Review) document, which was published as we exited the bailout. You can watch the exchange here.
Over the past three years I have been examining the money spent to date on the Poolbeg incinerator at every opportunity in the PAC. The constant refrain from Secretaries General and relevant accounting officers is that this is a matter for Dublin City Council and therefore the PAC has no remit.
We have debated in the Dáil the possibility of expanding the Comptroller & Auditor General’s remit to include the circa five billion in taxpayers’ money that is transferred to local authorities each year. This proposal was rejected.
However, following recently announced details that a further 600,000 plus will be spent on this project between now and June (in addition to the 96 million plus already spent over a decade) – and still nothing built – I have requested that the PAC seek to extend its remit so we can conduct a special investigation into this project.
This was agreed at our meeting on Thursday 3rd April and the Oireachtas legal advisor is now drawing up the relevant papers. Watch here.
Read the most recent documentation received by the PAC – including timelines, breakdown of spend, problems encountered, land acquisition costs (52 million) – and the very damaging local government auditor’s reports here.
The Department of Foreign Affairs came before the PAC this week. I used it as an opportunity to raise the following issues:
– The cost of the EU presidency
– The possibility of re-opening our Embassy in Tehran
– Scottish Independence and their potential accession to the EU
– The compilation of election monitoring participant rosters
– The prepayment of UN subs.
Watch my contribution here.
As part of the PAC’s investigation into Section 38 & Section 39 Agencies, Rehab Group was in front of the committee to discuss how it allocates the circa 80 million it receives from the public purse.
As part of my questioning I focussed on the 4 million received from the Department of Justice under the Charitable Lotteries Scheme. This is a grant that is paid to Rehab as match funding for their scratch card sales throughout the country.
A few points worth noting:
– Rehab make practically no money from running this scheme – the euro you pay for a scratch card does not make its way back to Rehab
– The more cards that Rehab sells, the more money it gets from the Department
– There is a question mark over how Rehab calculates its sales in my opinion as it counts not what it sells to newsagents at a discount price but what the newsagents sell to customers
– The money it receives from Justice is not meant to be used for administrative purposes, but it has been in the past (meaning public money was subventing private money)
– Recommendations from an internal audit by Justice of the grant scheme were not properly addressed, and it appears that this may be due to an error on the part of the Department
– The grant scheme is in the process of being wound down by Justice and there is a point of dispute between Rehab and the Department related to this
Revenue in the PAC
Revenue came before the Public Accounts Committee to discuss a number of issues. Foremost in the Committee’s review of their accounts was the administration and collection of the Local Property Tax. Revenue has published a detailed analysis of the collection of this tax – you can read this analysis here.
As well as discussing this, I also took the opportunity to question Revenue on the distribution of the tax burden, assessing correct distribution models, VAT, CGT and Revenue’s relationship with the Department of Finance.
Further to this, I also received endorsement from the C&AG and the Chairman of the Revenue Commission for the publication by the government of an official tax transparency calculator (you might recall that I previously published my own tax transparency calculator on this website last October – check it out here).
You can watch my questioning of Revenue here.
PAC visit to NAMA
Prior to our discussion with Revenue, I raised the matter of the PAC sub-committee on NAMA in relation to the 2013 NAMA Board internal review. We learned that the C&AG has completed his first triennial report under the establishing legislation and this draft is currently undergoing review. The sub-committee is to meet in the next fortnight, but prior to that we will be visiting NAMA’s offices for an on-site meeting.
Watch the exchange here:
The PAC’s investigation into the Dublin Docklands Development Authority continued this week.
You will be aware that the PAC has been investigating in particular events surrounding the acquisition by the DDDA of the Irish Glass Bottle Site in 2006. This follows on from the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General in his Special Report of February 2012.
Today gave the committee an opportunity to examine the accounts for the Authority from 2012 and to get an update on the Authority’s current financial position as it approaches its eventual dissolution as an independent entity later this year.
In my opening questioning I went through the headline numbers in detail and also queried the notes to the financial accounts. You can watch this here.
In addition, we also discussed the matter of the Shareholder’s Agreement entered into by the Board in the acquisition of the IGB site. This has been a key area of our examination which has been a point of disagreement in evidence heard to date concerning what the Authority agreed to and what the Board understood they were agreeing to. You can watch this section here.
This week the PAC held a number of private sessions concerning our current examination into the Garda penalty points system. These sessions concluded with an interview with the Garda Whistleblower who brought deficiencies in this system to light.
Also this week the PAC examined the accounts for the Office of Public Works (OPW). We examined the general accounts of the body, but focussed on Chapter 6 of the C&AG’s report, which deals with a complicated land swap arrangement involving the now vacant Garda station on Harcourt Terrace.
In my questioning I looked at the current use of the site (which is temporarily housing a school as many in the community will know) and future plans for the site. You can watch my questioning here.
Separately, following correspondence received by the PAC from a group of residents in Dublin 8, I also examined with the OPW the manner in which they provide architectural services to Irish heritage projects, including in this instance the design for the redevelopment of the Irish Jewish Museum. You can watch this here.
The Public Accounts Committee is currently examining issues around the purchase for €412 million of the former Irish Glass Bottle site by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority in a joint venture in 2006. This follows on from the Special Report of the C&AG in to the Authority in 2010.
The PAC has already interviewed the current Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, the former Manager of Dublin City Council, former acting CEO of the DDDA, the Department’s former representative on the DDDA Board at the time of the acquisition and the former Chairman of the Authority.
Today the former CEO, Mr Paul Maloney was in front of the Committee and I was lead questioner. To watch my three contributions click here:
To watch the full proceedings, click here.
The Irish Greyhound Board came before the PAC this week. I used it as an opportunity to discuss forthcoming contracts with companies abroad that will see Irish Greyhound Racing images and races exported around the world. This should be a significant new revenue stream for this industry.
Click here to watch.
Ordnance Survey Ireland came before the PAC last week. I focussed my questioning on the management of OSI’s accounts, new projects underway, commercial developments that will enhance the OSI’s revenue raising abilities, and the proposed merger for the OSI and how this will impact upon their operations and their revenue.