Saturday 23 March 2019

Audits find raft of irregularities in charities

Barnados boss Fergus Finlay had a salary of €117,951. Photo: Tom Burke
Barnados boss Fergus Finlay had a salary of €117,951. Photo: Tom Burke
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Poor financial control of millions of euro of taxpayers' money across a range of health agencies has been exposed in a series of audits.

High-profile children's charity Barnardos is among the agencies criticised for some weaknesses which could result in financial loss or error.

Run by chief executive Fergus Finlay, it received €37m in State funding between 2012 and 2014.

In 2015, Mr Finlay was on a salary of €117,951, while the HSE scale was €110,183.

The HSE internal auditors found "unclear" information was provided to the board of Barnardos and the media about the chief executive's salary and donations.

Controls around receiving cash in the post, which should be witnessed by two members of staff, were not adequate and senior management expenses had inadequate back up.

Itemised receipts for 27pc of credit card transactions were missing, as were 39pc of credit card statements.

The audit took issue with choosing suppliers based on the fact they had worked previously with the charity, and also the claim that the chief executive "generated an estimated €1.5m in free print coverage in 2014".

In response, a spokeswoman for Barnardos pointed to the audit's overarching opinion that the charity's board established an appropriate system of internal control to ensure it met its stewardship responsibilities.

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Barnardos is not bound by the Haddington Road and Croke Park agreements when it comes to salaries. Since the audit, which it put on its website, 37 of the of the 38 recommendations for improvement of controls had been implemented, she added.

A separate HSE internal audit expressed serious concern about controls at the HSE's own national ambulance headquarters in Dublin and bases in the Dublin mid-Leinster region.

It found a fuel card - used to get petrol for ambulances - was used for 26 vehicles that were not registered with the HSE.

At the Loughlinstown base in Dublin, a paramedic removed 200mg of the powerful controlled drug Fentanyl without signing for it.

The internal auditors could not verify if subsistence rates claimed by paramedics were correct.

Overtime was recorded as double time incorrectly in many payroll claim forms.

A separate audit of the support group Positive Action, set up to help women infected with Hepatitis C, concluded there were 94 irregularities in its books which were linked to one of its directors.

The organisation, funded by the HSE, closed down in 2014 following the audit.

It said that between 2009 and 2012 around €152,146 of irregularities were confirmed, including payment of cheques into one director's account.

Overall, the control of public funds by Positive Action was "non-existent" and there was evidence of "significant extravagance".

It found that in excess of 43pc of the public funding it received was spent on overseas trips, weekends away, dining, the expenses of the executive committee and complimentary beauty therapies.

Last year, the former Positive Action director Detta Warnock was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing €116,000 from the group.

The auditors concluded that there were significant warning signs which should have been acted on by the executive committee members and directors.

Positive Action Ltd told its members in 2009 it made the post of office manager redundant because the HSE had cut its funding and it needed to reduce costs. However, the HSE had not cut any of its funding, it found.

Irish Independent

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