Consumer watchdog overpaid own board by 5pc
Published 28/03/2011 | 05:00
THE country's consumer watchdog overpaid its own board last year, the Irish Independent has learned.
Board members at the National Consumer Agency (NCA) were given fees that were 5pc above what they were entitled to receive, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed.
The Department of Enterprise took responsibility for the error last night, saying it had "inadvertently" failed to notify the agency of reductions in fees, which had been due to come into effect at the beginning of January last year.
"The agency was only notified about the reduction on January 14, 2011," the NCA said in a statement.
Embarrassed officials were forced to claw back cash from board members, including Celia Larkin, the ex-partner of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, after the blunder was discovered.
Ms Larkin, who left the board of the NCA in April last year, had to give back €210 in additional fees she had received.
Hardest hit by the clawback was NCA chairman Stephen Costello. The former chief executive of Marks & Spencer in Ireland was forced to surrender €1,080 in fees.
Among those also affected were Cork-based public relations guru Robin O'Sullivan; National Adult Literacy Agency director Inez Bailey; and UCC lecturer Dr Edward Shinnick, who each had to surrender €630.
Under the revised fees, NCA board members are entitled to €11,970 a year for attending around six board meetings, while the chairman is paid €20,520 in fees.
Altogether, board members were paid €140,787 last year. Following the clawback, the fee outlay was reduced to €133,749.
The fees do not include other expenses claimed by the board, which totalled €13,817 last year.
Records released to the Irish Independent show that the salary of the agency's chief executive has also been cut. Chief executive Ann Fitzgerald was paid €176,883 last year, compared to a basic salary of €186,891 she earned in 2008.
Board meeting minutes for the past year reveal the agency is being dogged by staffing difficulties. The NCA was initially given Department of Finance approval to employ 80 staff, and now has a staff of just 44.
Board members expressed concerns in the past year that the staffing situation would make it difficult for the agency to operate effectively.