McCreevy orders Government departments to sharpen up acts

HEADS of government departments will be more accountable after Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy ordered all departments to sharpen up their act.

Mr McCreevy told all departments to review and tighten their financial controls and internal audit systems to get better value for public money.

The performance of the country's top civil servants will be scrutinised by watchdog committees made up of TDs and senators.

Publishing a top-level report on the responsibility and accountability of secretaries general and accounting officers in departments, Mr McCreevy said departments and offices should implement the document's proposals immediately.

"Implementation of the report's recommendations, and increased scrutiny of their performance by Oireachtas committees, should help departments and offices to intensify their efforts in getting value for money in the use of public funds," Mr McCreevy said.

The secretary general is responsible for managing the department and implementing government policy. Normally, the secretary general is also the accounting officer for the department.

The report concludes there is a continued need for clarity over responsibility and accountability in State bodies. Departments will be required to introduce formal risk-management strategies. The report recommends the Department of Finance provides guidance for these strategies.

The Department of Finance should also tell departments of areas of failings and issues of concern to public finance watchdogs.

"An explanatory document should be drawn up, from time to time, by the Department of Finance of the most serious common failings, inadequacies, issues etc identified in recent reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General and of the Public Accounts Committee and the categories within which they fall failure to observe rules, inadequate financial controls etc.

This should provide greater clarity to newly appointed, as well as existing, accounting officers as to the issues of concern to the PAC and the standards expected of them," the report says. But despite the report's recommendation for tighter controls, it concludes the current arrangements for scrutiny of departments by the Government and the Oireachtas are satisfactory.

The report was conducted by a group chaired by former Department of Finance secretary general Paddy Mullarkey. The group also included two external consultants, a former Comptroller and Auditor General, and a number of serving secretaries general.

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