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Docklands officials racked up over €1m on luxury expenses

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Paul Maloney, former chief executive of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority

Paul Maloney, former chief executive of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority

Lar Bradshaw, formerly of the DDDA

Lar Bradshaw, formerly of the DDDA

BIG SPENDING: The Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend

BIG SPENDING: The Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend

BIG SPENDING: The Noble Nest restaurant in St Petersburg

BIG SPENDING: The Noble Nest restaurant in St Petersburg

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Paul Maloney, former chief executive of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority

YOU can tell a lot about the culture of an organisation by how its executives use their expense accounts.

Take Fas. The largesse, the business class flights, the top class hotels, the limo rides to the airport, and the gargantuan restaurant bills.

These were all symptomatic of a greater malaise afflicting the State training agency. In fact, it was so rotten, the only option for the Government was to break it up and start all over again.

The same could also be said of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, a great idea that went off the rails in the haze of the Celtic Tiger.

By the time the DDDA is wound up this summer, it will have lost at least €180m from disastrous property deals, most notably the crazy decision to buy the Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend as part of a consortium involving now-bankrupt developer Bernard McNamara.

Several expert reports and over a year of probing by the Dail's spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), has failed to get to the bottom of that one.

Notes of board meetings left a lot to be desired. The Government was kept in the dark about the sum being bid. That figure jumped from €220m to €412m in the month before the bid was submitted. No one has been able to offer a convincing explanation as to why.

Even when the DDDA is gone, the taxpayer will still be on the hook for years to come, covering the authority's anticipated €8.4m pensions bill

The expenses racked up of executives and board members at the DDDA have received relatively little attention compared to those at Fas.

But they are no less instructive about the loose approach to controls and corporate governance that existed there.

A few weeks ago, PAC chairman John McGuinness asked Paul Maloney, the man who was chief executive of the DDDA at the time of the Irish Glass Bottle deal, about them.

"It might inform us as to the culture that existed in that organisation relative to the property development, and the attitude of the board relative to the general activity in the docklands area," he said.

Maloney's response was puzzling in the extreme.

He said credit card expenses were "virtually non existent and only used for travel".

"I have never seen credit card expenses being submitted to me or a report on that. I did not have one," he claimed.

The reason this answer was so puzzling was that not only was there a company credit card in Maloney's name with a €40,000 limit during his time as chief executive – from July 2005 to August 2009 – but over €109,000 was spent on it.

This included €28,000 spent on flights, €19,500 on foreign hotels, €6,300 on domestic hotels, €7,600 on foreign restaurants and €13,500 on restaurants in Ireland between July 2005 to August 2009.

These are pretty big figures for someone to forget, no matter how long ago it was.

But then again, given the way the DDDA ended up, it could be fair to assume that no one kept too close an eye on this sort of thing.

In total, some €518,000 was spent by four DDDA executives using five company credit cards between 2004 and 2009. A further €600,000 was spent on luxury travel for board members, expensive meals and fine wines.

At the committee hearing, Maloney seemed entirely oblivious to these figures.

McGuinness pressed on with his questioning, asking Maloney about a flight to Paris for the 2007 Rugby World Cup, golf outings and wine bills for board meetings.

Maloney said he knew nothing of the trip to Paris, which is strange as it was paid for on the card held in his name.

Furthermore a handwritten notation was made beside the entry on the credit card statement. It read: "Paul" followed by the word "wife" with a line drawn through it, followed by "trip to Paris World Cup", then a squiggle followed by "Dublin Port".

Maloney will get another opportunity to explain this expense and others when he returns to the committee some time in the coming months.

He has already written to PAC admitting he "incorrectly stated" he did not have a credit card.

"I had no recollection of it at the end of three-and-a-half hours discussing IGB (the Irish Glass Bottle site)," he wrote.

Officials have arranged for a copy of the credit card statements to be sent to him so he can refresh his memory.

Hopefully, these will help him to explain the €2,186 spent over two days at the luxury Claridges Hotel in London in May 2008. Was this for his expenses or was the card used to pay for staff members to go on a junket?

More than one committee member has also expressed an interest in getting an explanation for the €3,673 spent on a staff party in Town Bar & Grill and Lillie's Bordello in December 2005.

But these expenses pale in comparison to those associated with the former board of the authority, who, it seems, travelled the world to view other docklands developments. It wasn't uncommon for board members to stay in €580-a-night hotels.

Most of this carry on took place between 2003 and 2007 at the height of the boom. A group of 15, including former DDDA chairman Lar Bradshaw, flew business class to Baltimore and New York at a cost of €3,800 per person in 2003. They stayed in a Madison Avenue hotel and the accommodation and restaurant bills for just three days came to almost €27,000.

Then there was the visit by a group of 13, again led by Bradshaw, to Helsinki in Finland and St Petersburg in Russia in 2004. Restaurant bills of €6,000 were run up in the space of three days, and board members stayed in the €400-a-night Hotel Kamp in Helsinki and €450-a-night Corinthia Nevskij Palace Hotel in St Petersburg. Champagne and caviar featured on the €2,578 bill for the Noble Nest restaurant in St Petersburg.

The largesse wasn't confined to trips abroad. Once a year, the board had an "annual strategy meeting" in Co Wexford. These were expensive affairs with a lavish meal and plenty of wine. One of these meeting, at Marlfield House in 2006, cost the DDDA €10,733. The bill included bottles of wine at €85 each.

It was in this heady atmosphere that decisions were being taken involving massive sums of money, so maybe it isn't all that surprising that people lost the run of themselves. The board routinely approved the purchase of sites around the docklands for tens of millions for ambitious schemes. They're now all in Nama and worth a fraction of what they were bought for.

Given the disastrous way the DDDA has ended, why wouldn't those involved want to forget what happened.

Sunday Independent