Thursday 22 March 2018

Stubborn civil servants wasting limited resources

JOHN McGuinness is an interesting and wily politician who has created an impregnable Fianna Fail fortress in Kilkenny city that allows him to say things that few other TDs dare to think.

The tea-totaller's criticism of Brian Cowen when the latter was at the height of his powers was a courageous act that ensured he remained on the sidelines during the last administration.

Opposition seems to suit him and his stewardship of the Public Accounts Committee has begun well.

A report by the committee last week made for chilling reading. It detailed a petty but expensive vendetta between the Department of Finance and a private-sector company over a VAT bill which ended up in the Supreme Court and proved, at great cost, that the department did not understand its own rules.

The fact that the VAT bill would have been paid by the taxpayer even if the department had won the case made the action particularly futile.


The fact that the Attorney General warned the department against taking any action made the case inexplicable.

It is quite clear reading the report that mistakes were made by a few obstinate civil servants who got caught up in expensive vendettas.

These civil servants knew they were making mistakes because they often resorted to verbal communications when the subject under discussion became contentious.

While it is true that email is not always the best way to solve complicated issues, it is pretty obvious that there was a concerted attempt to avoid an electronic paper trail.

John Moran, the relatively new secretary general, has made a good beginning with his plans to restructure the department.

It will be interesting to watch what happens under his watch to those so roundly criticised by the Dail for their contumacious determination to waste the State's limited resources.

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