Over €500,000 of taxpayers' cash missing from union pot
Published 20/09/2011 | 05:00
MORE than €500,000 is still unaccounted for from a union "slush fund" paid for by the taxpayer, the public finances watchdog said yesterday.
No progress has been made in vouching for the payments from controversial Health Service Executive (HSE) funding to a number of unions, most notably SIPTU.
Last night, the HSE was unable to say if it was still making efforts to find out where the money was spent or what action had been taken to discover how such lapse systems -- which allowed the money to be handed over without the spending being vouched for -- were in place.
Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley was critical of the HSE paying over the money to the unions without getting the spending verified.
He concluded that public funds should not be handed over ahead of the spending being vouched for "nor should accountability for the use of those funds be devolved to other bodies unless there are valid reasons for so doing".
"Where funds are disbursed in advance, monies should only be made available in line with ascertained cash needs," he said.
The HSE National Partnership Forum paid over €800,000 "in advance of detailed vouching" from the unions, the C&AG said in his report.
But there is still €536,000 of unvouched spending from the account.
The body was set up from national wage agreements and was intended to facilitate partnership between management and staff for reforms in the health service.
Over the course of a decade, the forum spent €41m on various partnership projects, including the verification of reforms in the health service.
But the body was disbanded in June 2011 following a year of controversy over the use of the funds.
The money went into a SIPTU account that was used to fund 31 foreign trips and to channel money to unions, which has been described by a Fine Gael TD as a "slush fund".
An internal SIPTU investigation criticised the administration of the account by the two signatories -- SIPTU national industrial secretary Matt Merrigan and National Executive Council member Jack Kelly.
The account, known as the SIPTU National Health and Local Authority Levy Fund, had €680,000 still in it, which was refunded to the taxpayer.
Public Accounts Committee chairman, Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness, said the fund would again be investigated by the committee.
The HSE has been asking SIPTU for "supporting documentations", such as receipts and bank statements, regarding transactions from the fund.
SIPTU's internal report outlined the various types of income and expenditure administered by the union account, but it did not specify and categorise the income and expenditure in the report.
"On receipt of the SIPTU report the HSE sought clarification and further information about a number of details in the report and requested SIPTU to provide a full listing of the categories of expenditure and full details of income receipts. SIPTU was not in a position to provide the information," the C&AG report stated.