Wednesday 16 October 2019

Watchdog highlights financial failures in education spending

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Sean Ashe, former CEO of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Breaches in procurement guidelines and other criticisms of governance at Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB) during the tenure of former chief executive, Sean Ashe, are highlighted in a report from the State spending watchdog.

It is the final report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) into lapses in controls over procurement, cost overruns and other financial matters at KWETB.

A separate Department of Education investigation, conducted by Richard Thorn, president emeritus of Sligo IT, was published last year, following which education minister Richard Bruton used a legal power to formally instruct KWETB to improve its governance.

Certain matters have been referred to the Garda Economic Crime Unit and a spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing.

The C&AG said the exclusive focus of his report was KWETB and "for the avoidance of doubt this report does not make any criticism or comments, whether express or implied, with respect to staff members or any third party".

Sean Ashe, who was chief executive of KWETB when the matters came to attention, retired in December 2017.

According to the report, the lack of evidence available from KWETB to support procurement processes was concerning, "and indicative of poor control". The C&AG had "serious concerns as to the overall integrity of procurement due to the use of reduced deadlines for the submission of tenders, failure of successful bidders to meet minimum required standards in respect of contractor's annual turnover and experience, and errors, inconsistencies and lack of supporting information for scoring tenders received.

One of the key concerns surrounded contracts awarded to a firm with connections to Mr Ashe, which he did not disclose.

Other concerns highlighted by the C&AG include:

:: KWETB disposed of a van in January 2017, but received no payment until after audit queries were raised.

:: Poor contract management practice contributed to additional costs of €483,000 regarding the construction of Arklow Community College.

:: In April 2015, modular classrooms were installed in Naas Community National School at a cost of €206,000 and were relocated to Maynooth Post Primary School three months later at a cost of €73,000.

:: Significant expenditure with certain hotels without a competitive procurement process. During 2015, KWETB spent €61,550 on hotels, with one third going to a five star hotel and golf resort - including €10,540 for one event.

Irish Independent

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