Bus chief based in Dubai as first major strike looms
THE chairman of Bus Eireann is living over 7,000km away – in Dubai – at a time when the company is at risk of going out of business due to a crippling strike.
Paul Mallee was appointed two years ago by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar as chair of the troubled semi-state company.
But the Irish Independent has learned that a month after his appointment he got a senior position with Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi.
He spent a year there and then moved to a position with the United Arab Shipping Company in Dubai.
But while he is working in Dubai, Bus Eireann is facing the threat of all bus workers going on strike on Sunday in a dispute over pay cuts. And Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has warned that the company's future is at stake unless savings are made to reduce its multi-million euro losses.
His location in Dubai has led to a member of the Coalition Government to call on Bus Eireann to review his position.
Since he took over in July 2011, he has flown back to attend 17 out of 18 Bus Eireann board meetings. He attended the other meeting by video-conference.
He paid for the cost of his flights – with Bus Eireann confirming that his location abroad had not resulted in any extra costs for the company.
It also said that he was in "constant contact" with senior management about the industrial dispute with bus workers.
But Mr Mallee's presence in Dubai was strongly criticised by Labour senator Lorraine Higgins, who said there was a serious financial crisis in Bus Eireann that needed urgent attention.
"The question naturally arises, therefore, if the chairman Paul Mallee is living in Dubai, how can he effectively manage the situation?" she asked.
Ms Higgins called on Bus Eireann to examine whether it was tenable for Mr Mallee to carry out his job from Dubai.
"It would appear to any reasonable person that the chairman's position ought to be reviewed in the light of current developments.
"Bus Eireann clearly requires a hands-on approach at this time," she said.
Bus Eireann has lost €27m over the past five years, with its financial position worsening due to rising fuel prices and falling passenger numbers in the recession.
According to the company's most recent annual report, Mr Mallee received €10,963 in board fees in 2011.
When he was appointed two years ago, Mr Mallee appeared before the Oireachtas Transport Committee to discuss his professional background.
The Mayo-born business executive did say that he had broadened his understanding of global transport issues by "working internationally".
But there was no specific reference at the meeting to the fact that he was going to be based in the Middle East.
Transport Minister Leo Mr Varadkar stood over his decision to appoint Mr Mallee, who applied for the job through the public appointments system.
A spokesman confirmed that the appointment had been made before Mr Mallee had taken up his work in the Middle East.
He added that Mr Mallee was an excellent candidate who had been chosen on the basis of his track record.
"He serves as non-executive chairman and does an excellent job chairing the board of a company which is in a hugely challenging situation," he said.
Bus Eireann confirmed that Mr Mallee was currently based in the Middle East.
But it strongly defended Mr Mallee's position, saying he had worked with major transport companies globally in his role as a transport-sector management consultant.
"He is a former senior manager with the highly respected global strategy consultancy Booz & Company.
"He has provided advice to the Department of Transport here in relation to a number of major transport projects in recent years.
"Mr Mallee is a former president of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Ireland," it said in a statement.
Bus Eireann also said that Mr Mallee was not involved in the day-to-day running of Bus Eireann as a non-executive chairman of the company.
"Given the current situation, Mr Mallee is in constant contact with the senior management team, providing valuable input," it said.