Sunday 21 January 2018

Investigation into sale of government jet for €300k less than estimated value

A Gulfstream IV jet similar to the government jet
A Gulfstream IV jet similar to the government jet
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The Dáil's powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to probe the sale of the government jet after a report found it was disposed of for more than €300,000 less than it was worth.

The report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) raised questions about the sale of the Gulfstream IV aircraft in 2015.

The then-government was said to have taken the decision to sell the jet - which ferried ministers around the world - due to escalating repair costs.

The 14-seat jet first entered service in 1992. The C&AG's report said an informal valuation estimated the aircraft's worth as below €750,000. It was sold for €418,000. Spare parts - later sold for €53,000 - were previously valued at more than €400,000.

Despite the apparent below value sale, the Department of Defence insisted it was "fully satisfied" with the value achieved in the sale of the jet and the spare parts, given what's described in the C&AG report as the "extenuating circumstances involved".

Representatives from the department are set to appear before the PAC to be questioned about the sale this morning.

Committee chairman, Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming, said it "will be keen to discuss the options that were considered in relation to the jet and if the most cost-effective approach was taken".

The C&AG report - published last year - raised questions about the lack of a competitive sales process.

The report added the circumstances of the sale led the department to decide that a competitive tendering process would have been "impossible". This was because the jet was in a "stripped down state" at a Gulfstream facility in the US where "very high standards of security apply". Prospective buyers would not have been allowed to view the aircraft on the premises.

Prior to the sale of the jet, the government had two fixed wing aircraft used for the Ministerial Air Transport Service. Ministers still use a smaller Learjet 45 for flights to Brussels and other short-haul destinations.

Separately, officials from the Public Expenditure Department will also be in attendance at the PAC to discuss the appropriation accounts for Defence as well as Army pensions.

Mr Fleming said that gross expenditure in 2015 was €671m.

Defence expenditure is largely devoted to developing, maintaining and deploying military capabilities, Mr Fleming said.

"Over 68pc of gross expenditure provided for the pay and allowances of permanent Defence Force personnel, civilian employees and civil servants at year-end," he said.

Mr Fleming said issues of interest to the committee include receipts from banks for cash-in-transit escorts provided by the Defence Forces.

"In the context of Defence Forces pension schemes generally, we would be interested in how the arrangements in Ireland compare with the norms in other European defence forces," he said.

Irish Independent

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