Last week the spending proclivities of taxpayers’ money by the board of the Health & Safety Authority on themselves got an airing at the Public Accounts Committee. They apparently spent €625,000 from 2005 to 2011 but the explanation of this sought since last July is still not forthcoming.
The Chairman of the Committee, John McGuinness TD referred to spending on wine, flowers and restaurants. A trip to Paris apparently cost €1,250. Dinners’ two days apart from each other
cost €2,208 and €2,220 each and the restaurant tip was €300! A total of €4,086 was spent on
travel in a single day, the purpose of which was ‘unexplained’. Purchases from a health centre in Limerick cost €200.
Public curiosity in this matter started on 6 July 2011 when an internal audit got under way. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation reported to the Public Accounts Committee 17 November that the internal audit took five months to complete and that the report of it would be issued, but that no evidence has emerged of ‘wholesale, or systematic abuse of corporate credit cards at the Health & Safety Executive’. Apparently more questions have arisen for the HSA.
Up to €25,000 of this expenditure was ‘questionable’. My curiosity became agitated. I am puzzled to understand if the Members’ appetite for corporate governance has been as refined and elegant as their passion for epicurean splendour and fresh flowers. Furthermore, is this form of institutional governance really fit for purpose in a State that has endured 338 workplace fatalities
during the 6-year period of this splurge?
Compliance is the cornerstone of the HSA regime. Achieving and maintaining a high level of compliance requires effective enforcement and uncompromising efficiency. Is this achievable under the auspices of a 12-person board, comprising lobbyists’ and ‘happy-clappy’ political appointees of a chronically failed government who are supposed to determine ‘operational policy’? There is not a single word in the HSA annual reports from 2005 to 2010 to describe the
leadership, governance, technical and professional credentials of the Members of the Authority.
The annual reports of 2005, 2006 and 2007 did not include detailed audited accounts. This blatantly disregards the Code of Governance of State Bodies published by the Department of Finance over a decade ago. The toleration of this must have required the blind-eye of the former
Secretary-General of the parent Department. He was once a member of the board that presided over the rampant, inept corporate governance and delinquency at FÁS and who allowed Rody Molloy depart for good in a taxpayer-owned Audi, as if that was Molloy’s inalienable right.
The published HSA financial data from 2005 to 2008 could have been printed on a bus ticket. No wonder it takes over nine months to conduct an internal audit of boardroom spending for the Public Accounts Committee in such a self-serving culture of mottled opacity and muddled priorities.
The annual reports of 2009 and 2010 contained somewhat more detailed information that included a reference to a fund called Grant XO1 (Note 11 Board Members Disclosure of Transactions).This amounted to €410,000 over these two years. While the name of this grant sounds like a washing powder additive intended to take stubborn stains out of old men’s underwear, it was, apparently, supposed to fund a number of ‘external organisations’ and ‘strategic partnerships’, which were directly connected to Members’ of the Authority who presumably enjoyed the hospitality of the corporate credit card. The approved fund was paid into that most ambiguous of cul-de-sacs, a ‘partnership account’, which was “controlled” by the
noblesse oblige of the Construction Industry Federation, an entity which has not issued audited accounts for public inspection, or an explanation of what becomes of ‘partnership money’.
It is impossible for taxpayers to discern if Grant XO1 had a legacy prior to 2009 because of sparse information but I would like to know who the actual beneficiaries were; how this money was spent and what was accomplished throughout the life cycle of this grant.
Substantial money spent by the National Health Service Partnership Forum allocated to SIPTU never even found its way onto the SIPTU financial radar. This is the reason that there is no difference in the mind of taxpayers’ between a ‘partnership account’ and a slush fund for self-important apparatchiks’ of elite soviets to attend foreign sporting events at taxpayers’ expense.
This board structure is obsolete. It ought to be promptly replaced by a Health & Safety Commissioner whose reporting protocol would not be dissimilar in nature to that of the Director of Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement – and without a board of directors.
The immediate impact of this would save taxpayers €120,000+ per annum in fees and direct expenses and the public would have a clear-sighted, unambiguous understanding of where precisely responsibility and authority rests for the promotion of health and safety on the farm and in the workplace and compliance with the law.
The British counterpart of the Health & Safety Authority is the Health & Safety Executive. It has a board of nine members. Detailed biographical details are available on each director together
with extracts from the Register of Interests. The budget of the British body is £236 million – ten times larger than the HSA. It has in the region of 3,500 permanent employees compared to 175 in the HSA.
There were 48 workplace fatalities in Ireland in 2010 compared to 152 in the UK. Radical change might lead to radical improvement.
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