Officials accused of blocking spending clarity

Department of Expenditure secretary-general Robert Watt

Senior civil servants have been accused of blocking transparency on public spending after it emerged that 11 cost reviews of multi-million-euro public-private projects are still to be published months after the investigations finished.

Members of the cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) made the claim after the most senior officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and the Department of Education confirmed the reports have yet to be made public.

Speaking at the latest meeting of the PAC, Department of Expenditure secretary-general Robert Watt told the committee that in recent years a series of public-private partnerships for roads, school buildings, hospitals, and other developments have taken place. Mr Watt said that he is aware of a number of cost reviews that were conducted since last summer, including 10 relating to department developments and one relating to the courts service.

While he is “in favour of publishing reviews”, Mr Watt admitted to the PAC that none have been released since a publication commitment was given last September. Questioned on why this is the case, the Department of Public Expenditure secretary-general said he has spoken with colleagues and “they will be published as soon as possible”.

However, despite his defence, he and Department of Education counterpart Sean Ó Foghlú were criticised by all PAC members, with Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane accusing them of a “cavalier” approach to transparency.

While he specifically took issue with the “cavalier” claim, Mr Watt was further criticised by Labour TD Alan Kelly, unaligned Independent TD Catherine Connolly, PAC chairman Mr Fleming, and Fine Gael TD Peter Burke.

After hearing from Mr Ó Foghlú that the Department of Education has yet to conduct any detailed cost review of millions of euro worth of school builds, Mr Fleming demanded that all reports be published by Easter.

However, despite committing to raising the issue with officials immediately, Mr Watt would not agree to the PAC deadline, simply saying the reports will be published “as soon as possible”.

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