Finances under fire as harbours are owed €5m in rent and fees
REPEATED failures to collect fees and rent have resulted in fishery harbours being owed more than €5m.
A report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) says poor financial controls have resulted in bills being submitted late, resulting in some being written off, while some debts are outstanding for more than five years.
The Fishery Harbour Centres in Killybegs, Rossaveel, Dingle, Castletownbere, Dunmore East and Howth are designed to promote and develop sea fishing activities, including the sale of fish.
Day-to-day operations are funded through harbour dues and charges and rental of properties, but C&AG Seamus McCarthy says that his audit encountered "difficulties" over a number of years, in particular in relation to "adequacy of accounting records".
Among the problems were difficulties in collecting money from foreign vessels for using harbours.
This resulted in a flat-rate charge being applied, which led to a loss of €100,000 in income. In one centre, passenger vessels were not charged the correct rate, while some €360,000 in rental income is also outstanding.
This was in part because the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine took responsibility for the centres from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in October 2007, the report says.
Until April the following year, transition arrangements were in place which were "not effective, and resulted in lapses in invoicing of harbour dues", the 'Financial Management and Reporting for Fishery Harbour Centres' report states.
Between 2007 and 2011, around €13m in harbour dues was received by the centres, but there were a "number of instances" where billing was delayed or not in line with specific rates set out in legislation.
Some €1.2m were billed retrospectively, "due to a variety of weaknesses and errors".
Some €210,000 was subsequently deemed to be irrecoverable, while another €275,000 has still not been recovered. A further €248,000 is subject to legal proceeedings.
The report also says:
* In the same four-year period, some €4m was received in rental income. Half of this was billed retrospectively, of which €360,000 remains to be collected, including some €264,000 in one case alone where rent had not invoiced for eight years.
* In another case, sale of a property sold in 1993 had still not been completed. While 50pc of the sale price has been received, no rent has been billed since.
* Free parking in Howth has led to a loss of income of between €250,000 and €400,000. Development of a car park in Rossaveel cost €340,000, with an estimated €580,000 expected to be generated every year. In the first 12 months of operation in 2011, just €11,000 was received.
* Fees totalling €293,000 for passenger vessels were never charged to two companies.
* In total, the centres are owed just over €5m.
The C&AG said the department should immediately view its portfolio of vacant properties or those where no rent was paid in order to ensure a "proper competitive return".