Friday 20 October 2017

FAS staff facing the sack over misconduct findings

Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

UP to 10 FAS employees face being sacked after new internal audits found "overwhelming" evidence of misconduct at the scandal-hit state training agency.

Copies of 22 audit reports obtained by the Irish Independent reveal that serious concerns were raised about activities in several sections of FAS, including the corporate affairs, finance and procurement divisions.

The reports raise questions over why several individuals did not do their jobs, by failing to implement spending controls or inform the FAS board on several occasions when spending thresholds were breached.

FAS director general Paul O'Toole is to appoint an external investigator to probe the findings.

Agency insiders said that "between six and 10" people will face formal investigation and possible disciplinary action, up to and including being fired.

The number to be investigated could have been as high as 15, but some of those identified have already left the agency.

The findings the investigator will probe include:



  • Evidence that invoices were submitted when no work had been done.
  • Corporate affairs staff ignored FAS's designated travel agent when booking expensive flights and hotels.
  • Procurement orders were released despite being in breach of policy.
  • Payments were split so the FAS board would not have to be informed.


Much of the investigation will focus on so-called "gatekeepers", staff with roles in approving spending or with other control responsibilities who should have blocked certain expenditure or made sure it was raised at a senior level.

"There is overwhelming evidence. A lot of things were going on and people could have stopped them if they had put their hand up," a FAS insider said. And in a statement, FAS said the investigator would "seek to establish where responsibility lies in respect of the findings and whether further action is required".

Failings

The agency said it had also introduced new procedures for managers to ensure the same failings do not happen again.

Most of the audits focused on the activities of the corporate affairs division, which has since been disbanded.

The conduct of the division has been severely criticised by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) and the Public Accounts Committee. Its former director Greg Craig was previously suspended following disciplinary action. However, he was later reinstated and remains employed by FAS, albeit in a different role.

Spending related to the FAS Science Challenge Programme was also extensively dealt with in the audit reports. This programme provided the opportunity for Irish graduates to train for six months at top research institutions in the US.

It was revelations of lavish foreign travel, mainly associated with Science Challenge, which led to the resignation of former FAS director general Rody Molloy. The audits will not just have repercussions for certain FAS staff, but could also have implications for outside companies who did work for the agency. One set of findings, in relation to FAS's relationship with an advertising firm, were withheld as they are being investigated by the gardai.

Meanwhile, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan is currently considering a new report on FAS by the C&AG, which is expected to be published in the coming weeks.

Informed sources said the report will find that spending limits were breached by the concealment of some large invoices from the FAS board.

Irish Independent

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