Watchdog praised 'excellent' FAS audit controls
THE Government watchdog would be lucky not to be fired if it were a private company, the former acting chairman of FAS said yesterday.
The day after the publication of a damning report from the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) on activities at the state training agency, Niall Saul said the C&AG had told him controls at FAS were "excellent".
Mr Saul was a non-executive member of the FAS board and head of the internal audit committee.
The C&AG is responsible for producing an annual external audit of state bodies and government departments.
Mr Saul told an Irish Stock Exchange conference on company rules that he had asked the Comptroller if there were any concerns about FAS, and was told there were no serious problems.
"It provided me with a letter saying the control systems at FAS were excellent. The C&AG would be lucky to have its audit contract renewed if it were a private company."
He asked why the Comptroller, John Buckley, had not been summoned before the Dail Public Accounts Committee to explain the series of clean annual audits for FAS.
"They are not being held responsible for what I would consider failure on their part."
Mr Saul said disciplinary measures would begin in a number of cases of possible wrongdoing. He believed some of the inquiries into spending at FAS have revealed issues that could constitute "criminal activity".
"FAS line-managers deviated from both government and EU rules, and the control mechanisms failed to address this. Contracts above €250,000 should have been put out to tender, but they were split into sections worth less than that to avoid tenders.
"Senior managers should have stopped that happening. Information was kept from the board," he added.
Mr Saul said the public service culture of spending all the money allocated each year, for fear of having next year's budget reduced, contributed to problems at the training agency.
"Not spending money is seen as failure and spending it is regarded as success. That leads to the kind of culture seen in FAS," he said.