No sign we have learnt from past mistakes

For one of the best-educated countries in the world, it is more than surprising that we allow ourselves to be taken for a ride on a regular basis.

The comptroller and auditor general annually reels out significant financial and operational “errors” made in public sector and government agencies in previous years, yet, year-on-year the same “errors” and general waste of money occur.

It is as if the fact that the information was made public somehow bestowed forgiveness for the previous year’s omissions, and we can now restart at zero and continue to make the same mistakes. And, as we all know, only an idiot never learns from his mistakes.

Yesterday’s Irish Examiner outlined the purchase of land for social housing in Co Kerry.

Apparently as recently as 2008, Kerry County Council paid up to €800,000 for an acre on a Listowel floodplain. In 2008, the economy was already on the way down and it was already very clear that we had more than enough houses lying empty and more than enough land banks for housing, social or otherwise. Yet that did not stop the council paying €1m for two acres near Ballyferriter.

In a recent debate, one councillor asked would the council succeed in handing over to land aggregation (Nama for local authorities) 6.48 acres of land that it had paid €5.6m for in 2008. Why would anybody pay that sort of money in 2008, given the dramatically changing economy?

More importantly, why would anyone pay huge money to buy land on a flood plain when there is repeated evidence of what happens when it floods?

In our health system, many wait months and years for critical treatment. Some undoubtedly die because of the delays. Hundreds or thousands of others have to travel long distances, sometimes in the middle of the night, to access vital equipment only available in the main hospitals in Dublin.

In the past, we have seen expensive, state-of-the-art X-ray and scanner equipment purchased through local fundraising drives sitting idle for years because of VAT issues. Now we are told a multi-million euro cancer scanner which takes 3D images, and has already been mothballed since 2009, is unlikely to be used until the end of the year because of staffing delays.

The mind boggles. Up and down the country, folk are angered and annoyed and castigating those whom they see as responsible for the delay to the building of the National Children’s Hospital — a delay that is down to arrogance and bad planning and little else.

Yet here we have a machine that has been ready to use since 2009 and nobody had or has the gumption to do something about it. Are lives being lost? On the laws of probability they are.

One can only wonder how the people who have hand, act and part (HSE, unions, doctors and politicians) in this delay from 2009 can sleep at night. Do they see no day of reckoning in this life?

Surely, it’s not rocket science to move some folk around or perhaps reduce the already bloated administration grades to resolve this problem? It’s a little like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns. There are many simple solutions but vested interests do not want to take them.

Yesterday’s report in the Irish Examiner that there are increased hopes of a large oil find are potentially good news. Sure, it might never happen but if it does, let’s just hope that government et al do not waste the revenue from oil tax as they did the revenue from the building boom.

Let’s equally hope that they do not make long-term commitments with short-term money as they did in the first part of this millennium. Or is it hoping too much that we have actually learned from our mistakes by now?

business@examiner.ie

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