Sunday 21 January 2018

State property body probing corruption claim

Simon Harris, Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works
Simon Harris, Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works

Paul O'Donoghue

The Office of Public Works, which manages the State's property portfolio, is probing the possibility of corruption in its own organisation after a scathing report by the body's own employees.

In a submission to a civil service review, two of the organisation's civil servants said that surveyors employed by the OPW have raised concerns since the late 1990s about property transactions which they say seem to result in poor value deals for the State.

Although they did not reach a firm conclusion on why, they said: "Given the multi-million euro expenditure on property, the Government Reform Unit should be at the very least concerned that, it would seem, nobody has ever been held accountable for a poor property transaction."

They said that reasons for possible poor value deals could include "ignorance of the market by the negotiating body or person ... a compromised negotiating position ... hidden, but legitimate considerations, [or] corrupt actions."

The employees also referenced a separate submission made by two surveyors employed by the OPW during an operational review.

The surveyors said that, even in cases which involved "multi-million" euro losses to the OPW, there has not been "any serious retrospective examination [or] external scrutiny, never mind sanctions".

A spokeswoman for the OPW confirmed that the issues raised by the surveyors are currently being reviewed.

She said the surveyors' submission indicated that, in property transactions, "the potential for corruption exists if effective governance arrangements are not present".

She said: "While the surveyors did not identify any instances of 'corrupt actions', they did make reference to a number of property transactions going back over many years about which they had concerns. The surveyors have been asked by the OPW to review these projects in more detail and any issues arising will be referred to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General for review."

She said that the surveyors are set to have completed their examination by the end of September. "The OPW will await the review in order to determine if an issue exists before any subsequent action can be taken," she said.

The junior minister for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform also has responsibility for the OPW.

Asked whether the organisation or the minister had been notified about the surveyors' submission, a spokeswoman for the department said the Government "has sought to introduce greater openness, transparency and accountability through the public service reform and civil service renewal programmes."

She added: "The OPW has engaged with its surveyors in a positive and constructive manner on the issues raised in their submission."

Irish Independent

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