Education board ‘is complying fully with inquiries’

Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB) says it has co-operated fully with inquiries to date around procurement and other issues that are now subject to a ministerial-appointed investigation.

A strong emphasis in the terms of reference of the inquiry, announced by Education Minister Richard Bruton on Wednesday, is on how the education authority dealt with issues raised by his department and the office of Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy.

The issues which the C&AG’s office referred to the Department of Education during its audit of the Kildare and Wicklow ETB 2015 financial statements relate primarily, but not solely, to property, buildings, and vehicles.

The minister advised the board last month of his plan to appoint an investigator, under legal powers reserved for cases where he believes the functions of an ETB are not being effectively discharged. He must first, however, consider any representations made by the board to him about such a proposal.

In a statement yesterday, Kildare and Wicklow ETB said a meeting of the board took place on September 27 and no objections are being raised about the planned investigation. It said it has been working closely with the C&AG and the department “over the last number of months” concerning the 2015 audit of its operations.

Kildare and Wicklow ETB said has “co-operated fully with this audit and subsequent requests for information from both the Department of Education and Skills, and the [C&AG]”.

Further comment will not be made until a final report from either the C&AG or the investigator, Richard Thorn, it said. Mr Thorn is expected to report back to the minister in the first quarter of 2018.

His brief is largely focused on public procurement, usage, and disposal of assets, but with primary attention to be placed on communication on those issues. He has been asked to examine and report on “the robustness of the ETB’s responses to the issues raised in the C&AG audit and the department’s subsequent correspondence and identify any lacunae, inconsistencies, or insufficient clarity in the responses provided”.

The particular issues include Kildare and Wicklow ETB’s compliance with department procedures regarding procurement and delivery of various building projects. The sequence of events and nature of particular problems that gave rise to claims for additional payments on a building project referred to in the audit are also involved, as well as why and how an independent expert was contracted for a school building project.

Also under the spotlight are a property that Kildare and Wicklow ETB rented to a company referred to in the C&AG audit; how the rent was set and paid; and the impact of its unavailability to the ETB.

Mr Bruton wants to examine the effectiveness of arrangements since 2015 to ensure no conflicts of interest occurred with particular regard to procurement, asset disposal, or leasing that concerned companies referred to in the audit.

Kildare and Wicklow ETB was formed when the vocational education committees for Kildare and Wicklow amalgamated in 2013.

Procurement issues at Kildare VEC, highlighted in a 2012 C&AG report, included shortcomings in relation to how almost €900,000 on ICT equipment and services was spent over five years with a former employee’s company.

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