PAC wants public spending audited and new powers to compel witnesses

The Dáil’s spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is seeking to extend its powers after it ran into legal difficulties in compelling two former Rehab bosses to appear before its hearings.

Angela Kerins, who resigned as chief executive of the disability charity in April and her predecessor Frank Flannery, who retired in 2006 and stepped down as board chairman in March will not now have to give evidence to the cross-party group.

The Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP) — which sets rules for the Dáil — said the PAC could not compel the two former Rehab bosses to appear as part of its examination of voluntary health agencies and charities who receive large sums of public money.

The PAC can only do so with bodies that are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) and the disability charity does not fit into this category.

The committee met in private yesterday morning to discuss the ruling and decided to seek new legislation to extend the remit of the C&AG.

Chairman, John McGuinness (Fianna Fáil) said that while the State has changed its method for funding public services through outside agencies it “never empowered the C&AG to complete oversight of this money.”

Rehab received €95m a year from the taxpayers and the laws should be extended to allow oversight of such spending, he said.

The Committee also wants to change the Oireachtas rules to provide it with powers to bring in witnesses from organisations that receive public money but are not audited by the C&AG.

The PAC has asked the Oireachtas legal services to work with it on a proposal on changing the rules, which will be presented to the CPP in September.

Mr McGuinness said a report of how public money was used in the so-called Section 38 and 39 agencies, will be published in the autumn.

It was revealed during the course of the committee’s hearings that, of the €118m of funding for Rehab from within Ireland, €95.5m comes from the State and €13.5m comes from charitable donations.

This prompted TDs to described it as “practically a semi-state company”.

Mr McGuinness said last night that if the Government is truly committed to openness and transparency, it will change the rules so that such money can be traced.

He said the appearance of Ms Kerins and Mr Flannery was required to fill in a number of gaps about spending at the charity.

This included an arrangement in which Ms Kerins sanctioned more than €400,000 in lobbying and consultancy fees paid by Rehab to Mr Flannery without the approval of the board or the group’s finance director, Keith Poole.

These payments were sent by UK subsidiary TGB Learning instead of Rehab after Mr Flannery joined the charity’s board in 2011.

The committee also wanted details of their remuneration, severance payments, pensions, and ongoing payment and how they are being funded.


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