Monday 20 May 2019

Embarrassing gaffe as gardai were 'overpaid by more than €1.1m'

Embarrassing gaffe is likely to be written off at taxpayers' expense

GARDAI: Additional resources. Photo:
GARDAI: Additional resources. Photo:
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Gardai were overpaid more than €1m in pensions and salaries and some of it will have to be "written off" at the expense of the taxpayer.

The Garda's internal audit unit put overpayments of salaries and pensions at €1,139,014 at the end of 2014, €184,000 more than in 2013, according to a report obtained by the Sunday Independent.

Less than half of the gardai who were overpaid had plans in place to repay it. The force's internal audit unit concluded: "It is likely that write-off of some of this debt will be required but every effort is being made to recoup as much of this amount as possible."

The overpayments were blamed on deaths, retirements, sick leave and other eventualities that had not been reported on time to the payroll office. It found that the number of people assigned to recoup the overpayments was "inadequate".

The revelation will be embarrassing to Garda management, especially given the demand for more resources to strengthen the force since the austerity cutbacks.

The €1.1m overpayment is more than the €700,000 allocated in the last budget to buy high-speed garda vehicles to target mobile crime gangs and comparable with the €1.75m allocated to upgrade garda air surveillance.

The issue was one of several risks to the financial management and reputation of An Garda Siochana in an internal audit report presented to the Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan, in March of last year.

The report concluded that there had been improvements in financial controls in garda stations but "better monitoring and reporting of corporate risks" was required.

The heavily redacted report said 46 audit recommendations to tackle "high-risk" issues that threatened the "financial management and reputation of An Garda Siochana" had yet to be implemented. These required "immediate attention" by management.

The high-risk areas included procurement, overtime and allowances, seizure of vehicles, sick leave and supervision. The report identified "outstanding issues" in procurement in Roscommon/Longford, Mayo, Dublin North and Sligo.

The report concluded: "While there are some significant issues to be resolved and I am required by professional audit standards to highlight the significant risk exposure...nonetheless, we can report that strategies are in place to ensure a continuous quality improvement in the financial control framework."

According to the report, the work of the Garda Internal Audit Unit was slowed down by "staff vacancies" and new "risks" that emerged in 2014 which took priority. While the Garda Internal Audit Unit had approval for 10 staff, there were four vacancies at the time the report was written.

Auditors found there was tighter financial management, with a requirement for regular management reporting and financial controls in place.

The audit's most "significant finding" was redacted from the "Report to the Garda Commissioner in relation to Financial Control" which was released to the Sunday Independent under the Freedom of Information Act last week.

The annual report of the Garda's internal audit unit - which is published on the Garda website - raised concerns about how gardai manage drugs and cash seized from members of the public and said "urgent" steps were needed to address it.

The internal audit section is headed by a civil servant, and comprises financial experts and accountants working alongside gardai.

It has audited a number of garda stations and specialist garda units.

Sunday Independent

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