Let’s give taxpayers more bang for their buck

Is the sharing of state legal briefs the beginning of a trend?

On Monday we were presented with the news that the Government was to put in place new arrangements to avoid a situation where a very small number of barristers earn very large sums from state work.

We’ve seen that over and over again, particularly those barristers working on the various tribunals. So are we to believe or even think that Government just might realise that there are a lot more capable, able and experienced people out there that can and should share in any work required by the state.

If that is true for the legal profession then it should hold true for all professions. After all, we do consider ourselves one of the most educated countries in the world.

Whether this announcement or maybe it was a commitment made in response to a Dáil question, will ever come to pass is a whole other matter. Our trust in the word of politicians has sadly taken a nose dive even deeper than it had been under the previous government and that is some feat in just over a year.

During his reply in the Dáil, the Taoiseach revealed that one senior counsel was briefed in 35 cases between the start of January 2011 and the end of March 2011. Indeed, one junior counsel was briefed 136 times during the same time frame. Is it any wonder that almost every single case that goes before the courts suffers adjournment after adjournment?

Anyway, let’s hope that Mr Kenny really means it when he says that the workload will be distributed far more fairly and evenly. Now the only thing that remains is the horrendous fees these men and women get. More people vying for the work means more competition or, at least, it does in the rest of the world. Therefore, we expect a dramatic reduction in brief fees, daily rates and retainers.

Unfortunately for the poor taxpayer, the issue of the allocation of work to professional firms and individuals is not simply confined to barristers or to the legal fraternity in general.

The accountancy profession, among others, needs to hold its hands up as well. In fact, it should beg our forgiveness for the mistakes it has condoned. To the outsider, there seems to be a closed shop in operation where anywhere there are big fees involved only the existing big five or big seven or whatever it is this week seem to get the work.

Now you might say that’s fair enough. After all, these companies have the numbers and allegedly the expertise to undertake the work. Although that last point has to be in question given the glaring errors made in the audits of many of the major companies and almost all of the financial institutions. Virtually all of these audits were undertaken by the big companies. It is impossible to understand how some of the so-called errors or oversights were not spotted and corrected. After all, we understand that these folk work to very precise international standards and companies must allegedly comply with them.

Yet, despite all of the mistakes, these companies grow and grow. They do not do accountability, or even apology. As a colleague of mine said recently, “these are the firms which guided the economy on to the rocks”.

The most lucrative and voluminous accountancy work right now is for NAMA and other government bodies. Yet the main players despite everything that’s gone before still get the work. There are tens of small and medium size accountancy firms across the state that can and could do this work. Inexplicably they do not get the work.

Now when the Government catches this particular nettle with both hands then we might, and I mean just might, believe that they are genuine in their efforts.

After all the taxpayers are paying for it — let them see it shared around.


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