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Quango costs us €4m before even starting its work

A GOVERNMENT quango set up to investigate rogue estate agents has not carried out a single investigation despite costing the taxpayer more than €4m, not including lavish new offices.

The National Property Services (Regulation) Authority (NPSRA), which has nine staff including a chief executive designate, was set up in 2006 and was a child of the Celtic Tiger.

Its job is to investigate and punish errant estate agents, property management companies and auctioneers who break the rules, but legislation granting it those powers was not passed by the Dail until last month.

The authority's first job will be preparation of a property register, giving all details of residential sales in 2010 and 2011. But the delay in passing the legislation means millions of euro has already been wasted.

The NPSRA's budget for this year totalled €738,000, which does not include the cost of accommodation -- rent, service charges, maintenance -- which is paid for by the OPW, which is locked into a controversial upward-only rent review agreement on the building.

The agency has been headquartered at the Abbey Mall premises in Navan rented to the OPW.

A number of other state bodies are housed in the building on a 20-year, upward-only rent agreement which began in January 2008 -- on which a further €9,781,120 will be paid out by the time the lease is up.

A spokeswoman at the Department of Justice told the Sunday Independent: "The functions of the authority will include the investigation of complaints against licensees (ie auctioneers, estate agents and property management agents) and the imposition of sanctions in respect of improper conduct. It will also carry out investigations on its own volition."

The spokeswoman said that in advance of it becoming a statutory body, the authority has been "very active in putting in place a solid foundation for the organisation".

"This is to enable the authority to hit the ground running when the bill becomes law," she said.

The NPSRA website says that it will have the power to issue sanctions against estate agents, auctioneers etc, up to and including the revocation of a licence, and may also impose fines of up to €250,000.

A director designate was appointed in June 2006 and nine staff appointed.

The office was allocated a budget of €700,000 for 2007, €930,000 for 2008, €657,000 for 2009, €738,000 for 2010 and €738,000 for this year.

Sunday Independent