Wednesday 18 October 2017

Another day, another whitewash -- and as usual, no one pays

The reports into the €3.6bn statistical blunder by the Department of Finance follow the usual pattern of blaming no one and letting those responsible off the hook.

Another official cock-up, another report, another whitewash. The twin reports into the statistical blunder which resulted in Ireland's national debt being overstated by €3.6bn follows the pattern set by previous reports that have been published since the economic crisis began almost four years ago.

Ever since 2008, as the economic situation has continued to worsen, the banks went bust and taxes soared, the Irish people have been looking for answers. Instead, all we get is platitudes.

The reports that were published on the banking crisis and the response to it by the Government and regulatory authorities, Regling and Watson, Wright and Nyberg, while long on broad-brush analysis, were woefully short on specifics.

While we were treated to long treatises on the structural failures of the various organisations involved, we were left none the wiser as to who was responsible for the mess that left the Irish State bankrupt and taxpayers more than €63bn out of pocket.

Given the abysmal record of previous reports to get to the bottom of the matters that they purported to investigate we should not have expected too much from the twin reports on the statistical blunder at the Department of Finance.

Sadly, we were not disappointed. An internal report by the Department of Finance itself and an external report by consultants Deloitte have come up with the usual mixture of "communications", "process and systems" and, last but not least, "resources" to explain what went wrong.

According to the internal report: "The double-count error and the circumstances outlined in this report in relation to expert knowledge, management oversight, inter-agency dependencies, information and communications flows and risk factors highlight areas where improvements are possible. Existing procedures can be enhanced, exposures to errors and vulnerabilities in systems can be reassessed and controls updated to provide greater assurance that all reasonable steps have been and are being taken to address key risks."

What utter and complete gobbledygook! Only a group of career civil servants steeped in decades of bureaucratic group-think could possibly believe that this meaningless gibberish constitutes a satisfactory explanation for what went wrong.

The Deloitte report is only marginally better. While its recommendation that the CSO assume sole responsibility for collating national debt statistics rather than, as happens at present, splitting the job between the Department of Finance, the NTMA and the CSO, is surely sensible, did we need an expensive external consultant's report to reach this conclusion?

Apart from this, Deloitte runs the consultant's usual gamut of "effective organisational arrangements", "efficient processes and systems", "clarity of communications" and "appropriate resourcing".

Not a word on who was responsible for the double counting which resulted in the national debt being overstated by €3.6bn. No officials are named and shamed. What role, if any, did former Department of Finance secretary general Kevin Cardiff, since transplanted to a €276,000-a-year job as Ireland's representative on the European Court of Auditors, play in the affair? When did he become aware of the double counting?

Given that the national debt had been miscalculated on several occasions over the past decade, what steps had been taken by Mr Cardiff and other senior civil servants at the Department of Finance to prevent a recurrence of such bungling?

Judging by the available evidence, not a lot. Reports like these are a waste of time -- unless we start naming those who are responsible.

Irish Independent

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