independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Foreign aid squandered by the pool

At home, the taxpayer faces cuts and hospital waiting lists while aid funds are spent on €1,312 flagpole

MONEY SPENT WELL: Chauffeur's uniforms, wine, swimming pool upkeep and paintballing sessions were just some of the worthy projects funded by the Irish taxpayer under the more general heading of 'Irish aid'

Some of Ireland's €623m in foreign aid to poorer countries has been squandered on chauffeur uniforms, swimming pool maintenance, a witness protection project, expensive cutlery, New Zealand wine and a flagpole that cost €1,312, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

With an economic situation so dire that some elderly people go to bed in the afternoon to save on heating bills or families survive on nothing but cornflakes for days, the money given by taxpayers to developing countries in Africa and Asia has come under increased scrutiny. The waste of Irish money on swimming pools or lavish VIP lounges is certain to cause fury among hard-pressed workers – especially as more than 1.59 million people here are left with less than €50 per month after paying their bills.

Documents obtained by the Sunday Independent under the Freedom of Information Act detail spending on goods and services above €500 per item by Eamon Gilmore's Department of Foreign Affairs' Irish Aid organisation in 2012. The funds are designed to improve the lives of poor people in developing countries but have also been spent on paintballing and expensive cutlery.

The taxpayer spent €517.15 to replace a "swimming pool pump" for the ambassador's residence in Uganda in the sticky hot days of October last year. Swimming pool maintenance in Zambia, saw Omali swimming pools paid €1,353 between January and June last year. Last February, €1,312 in Irish aid was used to pay for a "flag pole replacement" in Uganda. That's the equivalent of the annual household charge for four homes under Michael Noonan's hated new tax grab.

The Malawi Irish Aid programme spent €614 on "drivers' uniforms" including suits, shirt and shoes. Select Garments of Uganda was paid €720 for "shirts for drivers' uniform". Zambia's Fine Fashion Centre received €1,143 for "staff uniform" fees.

It wasn't all harsh work dealing with famine and hardship in poorer counties though. Some €610 was spent at "Hope Extreme Ventures" in Mohale, Lesotho, for "team fun games for two days". The complex offers rockclimbing, absailing, paintballing, horse riding and archery to its clients. This spending was for "workshops to assist the government of Lesotho to develop frameworks to measure the effectiveness of their national strategic plan," Irish Aid told the Sunday Independent.

There was another "teambuilding event" held in the five-star Sheraton Hotel in Kampala, Uganda, costing €898. Another €581.99 was spent at the Kungoni Centre for Culture for "cultural orientation for embassy staff". "Business planning and Christmas lunch" in the exclusive Roma house in Lusaka, Zambia, cost €736.

In Vietnam "New Zealand wine for office purposes" cost €1,813.83 in August last year. It was sold by a "local supplier". "The wine was bought for official purposes and has been served at functions," Irish Aid told the Sunday Independent. The wine was "bulk-bought" from the New Zealand embassy to reduce costs.

Back home the "ministerial Mercs" may have been locked away in the garage but the taxpayer is forking out for the costs of chauffeur-driven cars in developing countries. In Vietnam "chauffeur costs" of €2,850 were clocked up in May 2012, with a further €1,365 bill the following August. The spending included €11,261 in chauffeur bills for "Lesotho king's visit to Ireland". The trip in June 2012, also featured a €1,739 bill for a "VIP lounge" and €1,192 in hotel costs.

Ireland donated €25,235 for a "witness protection project" run by Uganda's ministry of justice. "This project has played an important part in helping to bring to justice those accused of terrible crimes in northern Uganda and to strengthen the rule of law there," according to Irish Aid. We also coughed up €57,241 for 400 mountain bikes for the Ugandan police as budget cuts will see the closure of 100 police stations in Ireland this year.

The taxpayer also forked out almost €792 for "supply and delivery of cutlery". The spending was classified as "ambassador's residence cutlery". "In Zambia, the Irish Aid programme spent €1,347 on a dishwasher for the head of mission's residence. Framing of "14 photos" in Mukwa for "NP launch" cost €1,382 – or almost €100 each. Five months' house rental also cost €10,900.88 in Zambia.

The Lesotho spending also included a staggering €3,786 for "fence-painting with two coats", while in Tanzania we spent a further €5,471.98 on "replacement of metal railings", sleek "Fagor kitchen appliances" cost the taxpayer close to €5,860 for the "residence" in Vietnam. There was also a bill of €1,996 for tiling of bathrooms in the ambassador's residence in Uganda. It also cost an incredible €1,881 for "re-upholstery" of office chairs. A "sofa cover" in Vietnam cost €508. There was a bill from African Habitat for a €697 sideboard and coffee table and "€1,014 for "bulb replacements" and "electrical repairs". An iPhone5 16GB was procured for €944.85 in Uganda. The same phone costs €679 in Ireland.

Around €89,374 was paid to Tanzania's Young Scientist & Technology exhibition company to "promote science and technology among young people".

Another €3,646 was paid to Eagle Air in July 2012 to charter a plane to Moroto for Eamon Gilmore.

Ireland's €623m foreign aid budget has come under real pressure since the economy collapsed. Faced with a near €13bn budget deficit, the taxpayer is effectively borrowing money to pay for aid to poorer countries. It has been likened to a patient receiving a blood transfusion insisting on donating blood.

The pressure on our overseas aid budget intensified late last year when it emerged that €4m of Irish taxpayers' money had gone missing in a suspected fraud in Uganda. It was subsequently refunded.

"The department has comprehensive systems in place to control and account for expenditure.

"Most administrative expenditure is incurred at headquarters but each mission also has a budget to meet local costs. This expenditure is overseen by the head of mission and is reported monthly to headquarters where it is examined and verified," Irish Aid told the Sunday Independent.

The Comptroller & Auditor General also audits the figures.

Some €498m of the overseas aid budget is managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. An additional €125m is provided through other government departments and the EU Development Cooperation Budget," Irish Aid said.

"Irish Aid spends approximately 6 per cent of our aid budget on the administration, management and oversight of the aid programme. OECD figures show that this is low relative to other government aid programmes," according to a spokesman.

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