THE performance bonus system for senior public servants has been described by TDs as being like "the third secret of Fatima". It was set up in 2002, but no specific details of the targets set, the results achieved or the individual bonuses paid to top civil servants, senior gardai and HSE officials have ever been released.
To qualify, public servants had to set their own targets in "three key areas". They then had to assess their own performance in a report at the end of the year. This was sent on to the head of their government department, or parent government department in the case of state agency chiefs.
The Garda Commissioner and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces made the decisions on bonuses for senior gardai and senior military officers. The final evaluation was carried out by a group known as the Committee for Performance Awards. It was chaired by public service management secretary general Ciaran Connolly and included government secretary general Dermot McCarthy, as well as three private sector members.
In 2008, more than 91pc of senior civil servants who applied for the scheme got bonuses ranging from 5pc to 15pc -- with the remainder getting less than 5pc. The bonus awards for these civil servants alone cost about €2.7m -- an average of around €17,763 each.
The bonus system was scrapped last February in response to the economic crisis. No bonuses were paid out for work done in 2008 or 2009. The decision to take the bonuses of senior civil servants into account when calculating the public sector pay cuts was announced late last month (after the Budget) by the Department of Finance in a circular letter sent to all government departments. Civil servants at the third highest grade -- assistant secretaries -- are being cut by as little as 3pc.
There are 150 assistant secretaries, with salaries of up to €146,000 each. In contrast, the standard salary for cleaners in government departments (who have no bonus scheme) has been cut by 5pc and now ranges from €19,799 at entry level to €22,987.64 after six years of "satisfactory service".