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New PAC boss vows to hit waste before it happens

THE new Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will try and stamp out wasteful spending in the public service before it happens -- and won't just be looking back to where taxpayers' money went in the past.

One of the traditional criticisms of the PAC was that it discovered waste months or years after it happened.

However, new chairman John McGuinness is giving TDs on the PAC the freedom to quiz senior civil servants about what is going on now.

The PAC for the new Dail met for its first major session yesterday, following the meeting last week where Mr McGuinness was elected chair, and was briefed in private by Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) John Buckley.

Mr McGuinness said the PAC had traditionally looked "back" -- but added he would allow a new approach.

"I'm going to allow the flexibility within the committee that TDs can tie in similar issues of today," the Fianna Fail deputy for Carlow-Kilkenny said.

"The examination of the departments will not be confined to the past or history -- they will have a linkage to current activity. It's going to be a different dynamic."

Mr McGuinness -- who has been a consistent critic of the public service -- said he would be focusing on the departments of finance and social protection, as well as state agencies TDs typically found difficult to get answers from, like the HSE.

"We're going to look at the Department of Finance and how it operates because that leads us into the public sector itself, NAMA (and) the banks and how they were supported.

"We want to take on the agencies of the state that are a bit beyond accountability in terms of questioning them in the Dail, and (insist) that their accounts are returned in a timely fashion and you don't get accounts that are dated as 2005 in 2011. That has been happening and we're not going to tolerate that anymore."

Mr McGuinness also said the PAC would give quarterly reports about what it had found, what it was concerned about and what it wanted to investigate in future.

The first public meeting of the PAC will take place in two weeks, when HSE chief Cathal Magee will be asked about a report from the C&AG on hospital emergency departments.

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