Monday 19 March 2018

Siptu 'badly managed' €2.3m grant from HSE

Financial records not maintained but 'no evidence of criminality'


A PRELIMINARY garda inquiry into the missing €2.35m State grant to Siptu has found that poor financial governance rather than criminality is responsible for the unaccounted-for funds.

The case came to light in an internal audit by the Health Services Executive (HSE) which was told that the money had been spent on foreign trips and training courses but there were no invoices or receipts to back up the claims.

Garda sources say there is no evidence that money was misappropriated and doubt that the case will proceed to a full investigation. They say the case instead points to serious failings in financial controls at the HSE and Siptu.

The internal audit that exposed the unaccounted for €2.35m criticises the HSE for transferring the money into the bank account without demanding proof of how it was spent. It has emerged that the State funds were paid into a bank account which was set up in the name of Siptu, but the trade union said it never received the funds and has instigated an internal inquiry.

The account was apparently set up without the union's authority. The annual Department of Health grant of €250,000 was paid into the bank account every year, initially by the Midland Health Board and subsequently by the HSE, since 2004. It is believed a trade union official managed the funds, which he used to pay for training and study trips to the US, Hong Kong, Australia and to the UK for Siptu members and government officials.

The trips are believed to include a fact-finding trip to Boston in 2008 to inspect a private ambulance fleet attended by ambulance workers, union and health officials, including a senior executive at the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council.

An official from the Department of Health and one from the Department of Finance were among those who took part in the trips, prompting inquiries to ensure that foreign travel protocols were not breached.

The cost of the trips has not been quantified because the financial records, invoices and receipts were not maintained and there was no way of proving how the money was spent. "The invoicing and paper trail is not what it should be," according to a HSE source. "There are no receipts so where is the verification? Our own internal audit can only take it so far."

The internal audit found that the study trips were funded in a manner that ensured the expenditure would escape scrutiny. Many of the expenses associated with the trips were unvouched and receipts for hotels and other travel costs were not kept.

The HSE internal audit is also heavily critical of the health authority for channelling the State funds to Siptu without attaching any financial controls to the payment. It questions the HSE for failing to seek invoices or receipts for how the union spent the money, which was paid to Siptu out of a €12m-a-year Skills training programme for health staff.

The training grant was negotiated by Siptu as part of a Labour Court agreement in 2004 between the HSE and health unions.

The HSE audit also raised concerns about the Skills programme. It found that there were breaches of recruitment in that the relatives of personnel associated with the programme were placed on a panel and subsequently recruited. There were also concerns raised about a planned pension fund for a staff member who was on a temporary contract and was not entitled to a pension.

There were also questions this weekend as to how Siptu could have failed to miss a €250,000 State grant that the trade union had negotiated with the Government in 2004.

Siptu re-iterated in several statements last week that it never received the €2.35m. A spokesman said that the money was not paid into any Siptu-authorised bank account but refused to comment further. The union said it was first asked about the State funds in September 2009 by the HSE.

It confirmed that an official was being investigated following information Siptu had received from the HSE but said the inquiries cannot proceed without a copy of the audit, which the health body has so far refused to release.

Sunday Independent

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