FAS auditors advised agency to relax limits on credit cards
A SERIES of blunders involving officials at FAS and the Department of Enterprise may have contributed to, and later left unchecked, the spending scandal at the State training agency.
A confidential report seen by the Irish Independent has revealed how FAS's own internal auditors recommended the relaxing of credit card limits and the allowance of greater flexibility in the booking of foreign travel.
The recommendations were made in 2001 -- not long before FAS became involved in questionable spending on foreign travel.
The agency spent €4.7m on foreign trips between 2002 and 2008. Spending using agency credit cards also exploded during those years.
A separate report, also seen by this newspaper, reveals how the Department of Enterprise announced plans for a value-for-money investigation into foreign travel at the agency in December 2006. However, this never happened "due to a communication error between the department and FAS".
FAS director general Paul O'Toole and the secretary general of the Department of Enterprise, Sean Gorman, are likely to be questioned about the revelations today when they appear at the Dail Public Accounts Committee. In the 2001 report, an audit team recommended that limits for credit cards used by FAS's corporate affairs division could be raised above their IR£15,000 (€19,050) limit "in some cases".
Credit cards used by Greg Craig, the former head of corporate affairs and a central figure in the spending scandal, were later used to pay bills totalling more than €400,000 in an eight-year period.
Mr Craig's credit card limit jumped to €76,200. He was also allowed a €100,000 limit on one occasion. The report also revealed how auditors did not see any reason why staff involved in Jobs Ireland could not make their own foreign travel arrangements, provided annual travel costs did not exceed £10,000 (€12,700).
Last night, Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar said the latest disclosures showed that the Department of Enterprise and successive ministers had "allowed FAS to be a law unto itself".
"There was no oversight, and no accountability. Even the value-for-money audit which the department wanted into foreign travel did not occur," he said. "The revelation that an internal FAS audit had recommended lifting the IR£15,000 credit card limit in 2001 is particularly disturbing."
In a statement, FAS said considerable changes had been made to credit card use and corporate travel. All corporate credit cards have been cancelled with the exception of one card which has been retained for library use and online procurement, the statement said. It has a limit of €7,000.
The statement said foreign travel had been extensively curtailed and now needed to be approved in advance by the director general.