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McGuinness in fierce civil servant criticisms

The chairman of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee has launched a blistering attack on  some top civil servants – accusing them of obstructing the work of the Committee.

In a letter to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness accused some senior officials in some government departments of obfuscation, dissimulation, and a lack of urgency about written replies that is disappointing.

He said the Irish people had had enough of senior officials retiring with packages worth up to €6m, particularly when their departments were being criticised by the Comptroller and Auditor General for lax controls, inefficiency and waste.

He warned that anger would only increase if it is seen that the politicians and one of the most senior financial officials in the state are being obstructed in their attempts to make accountable managers in Departments that for too long have avoided close scrutiny.

Mr McGuinness described some replies to written parliamentary questions as wordy but worthless – and sometimes obstructive.

He said that, at the moment, a number of officials take as long as they like, on whatever they like, without sanction.

He claimed that, as a result, legislation critical to Irish success, like the reform of the Companies Act, can crawl “at a snail’s pace” through departments where some senior officials still do not appreciate that Ireland’s prosperity and future success in no small way is dependent on their actions.

However, Mr McGuinness did note that some departments were very cooperative, and cited the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners as open, helpful and courteous.

He said extensive bureaucratic processes and considerable correspondence were the enemies of speed, simplicity, transparency, excellence and accountability – and were in fact the enemies of any sort of progress.

He said these were what people engage in when they don’t have to meet a deadline, are trying to avoid responsibility or don’t know what to do.

He said the biggest hindrance to the work of the committee at present is the lack of deadlines, which, he believes should be enforced by ministers.

Mr McGuinness said that the PAC could only do its work well if senior officials of the state cooperate.

He said nothing demonstrated the desire to avoid scrutiny more than the reluctance of local authorities to open their accounts to auditing by the C&AG.

He said it is ridiculous and unacceptable that the C&AG had so little control of €4.5 billion of spending.

He said it should be a cause of great political and public concern that so much is being done by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or local authorities – or both – to avoid accountability.

He said that at present the PAC cannot get full accountability for why the cost of road maintenance varies among different local authorities, or why the level of water leakages has not declined over the last ten years.

He said the committee cannot question key staff such as county managers, who are responsible for the efficient and effective expenditure of the billions of euro transferred to them annually.

He recommended transferring 40 staff in the Local Government Auditing Service from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to join the 140 qualified staff in the C&AG office.

He said that while the PAC understands that caution is necessary, it needs to be dealing with the problems of today rather than the contents of reports 18 months old.

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