Business Irish

Thursday 26 April 2018

'Poor data systems' led to €3.6bn blunder - CSO

Donal O'Donovan

THE Central Statistics Office (CSO) says Irish officials made the infamous €3.6bn accounting blunder because systems used to collect data from the NTMA were not fit for purpose.

In a letter to the powerful Committee of Public Accounts, CSO assistant director general Aidan Punch said the error could have been avoided if better systems for handling data were in place.

It is the most damning report yet into the embarrassing accounting error that caused officials to report the wrong figure for the national debt, and threatened to undermine confidence in the competence of the Irish civil service at a crucial time in the nation's history. A CSO investigation found the "forms of templates used to collect the information from the NTMA was not fit for purpose".

It meant the borrowings were miscalculated even though the information to correctly classify the €3.6bn was available within the system, Mr Punch told the committee.

The CSO was forced to reveal the error to the European statistics agency as soon as it became aware of the issue, he said.

The CSO was asked to give evidence after it emerged at the end of October that the Government was forced to correct the overall figures in the national finances by €3.6bn because of an "accounting error".

The figure had been "double counted" when two government agencies both included it in their overall debt figures. It meant debt was less than previously thought.

The error was discovered during a review of the classification of the total debt situation. The error has cast a shadow over the candidacy for a top European job of Kevin Cardiff, current head of the Department of Finance.

Mr Cardiff has been nominated by the Government for a place on the European Court of Auditors.

Mr Cardiff, once head of the department's banking section, is facing hostile questioning from MEPs next week.

The senior civil servant was in the department when key decisions on the banking crisis were made, including the controversial bank guarantee scheme of September 2008.

Irish Independent

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