Wednesday 24 January 2018

DIT employees breached travel cost rules with first-class trips

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

A STATE-FUNDED third-level institution has admitted staff breached strict travel procedures by taking first-class flights.

The admission was made by Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) in correspondence with the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG).

The breaches related to four flights taken by science faculty staff in 2007.

DIT's rules prohibit the use of first-class flights on institute business.

According to the correspondence, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, DIT spent over €900,000 on foreign flights during 2007 and 2008.

Apart from the first-class flights, 137 business class and 4,832 economy flights were also taken over the two years on DIT business -- an average of over six tickets a day.

Some 926 of those were for non-staff members at a cost of just over €122,000.

Some of this money was refunded.

In a statement, DIT said the first-class flights were booked for its staff by officials at a Chinese academic institute.

The flights were taken by two members of the Faculty of Science, who travelled between Beijing and Harbin, where DIT has a joint degree programme in computing with Harbin Institute of Technology.

"Students on this four-year programme spend the first two years of study in Harbin and the second two in DIT in Dublin," the statement said.

"A number of DIT staff travel to Harbin each year, and colleagues from Harbin also visit Dublin to ensure that the programme runs smoothly."

Alternative

DIT said the flight arrangements had been made locally by colleagues in Harbin and that the difference in the cost between economy and first-class was covered by Harbin.

"The original flight on which they expected to travel was cancelled and this alternative was booked at short notice. The cost of the two round-trip flights was €566, including taxes," the statement said.

A DIT spokeswoman added that no other first-class flights have been accounted for by DIT since 2007.

"It is not permitted under our policies and procedures concerning travel and subsistence," she said.

DIT was one of 20 state organisations surveyed on foreign travel for a C&AG report published earlier this year.

However, only limited details of the survey were published and organisations whose staff took first-class flights or who paid for spouse travel were not identified by name.

DIT is the first of the surveyed bodies to admit staff members flew first-class. Staff from at least one other body also did so, but the organisation involved has yet to identify itself.

The DIT spokeswoman said the amount of travel involved should not be surprising.

"The reality is that all higher-education institutions and any organisation in a knowledge-based industry would engage in quite a lot of international travel," she said.

"In our case, staff members travel to conferences, present papers, arrange student exchanges, recruit students and so on. We also receive academics from other institutions around the world, so it's a two-way street."

Irish Independent

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