State agency staff ‘lack governance’

THE state’s ethics watchdog has sharply criticised the Government for failing to introduce legal rules to govern the conduct of employees of state agencies.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) highlighted its concerns about the issue in its 2008 report, published yesterday.

It said provision for a statutory code of conduct for directors and employees of state agencies had been made more than seven years previously in the Standards in Public Office Act 2001.

Despite this, successive Fianna Fáil-led administrations had failed to introduce a statutory code.

“The question of the standard of governance of state agencies has been the subject of much public comment in the recent past; allegations have also been made about impropriety on the part of certain persons in state agencies,” SIPO said, in what was believed to be a reference to the expenses scandal at FÁS.

“There is public expectation that high standards be demonstrated by all public servants in the exercise of their functions and in the use of public resources.”

SIPO acknowledged that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had issued a revised “code of practice” for state bodies, but said this fell some way short of a statutory code.

In addition, while using diplomatic language, SIPO clearly chided the minister for not consulting it about the code of practice.

“The Minister for Finance has issued a revised code of practice for the governance of state bodies, which makes reference to ethical standards and obligations,” SIPO said.

“The Standards Commission, which was not consulted about the code of practice, considers that an administrative code of that nature is not an adequate substitute for the statutory code which the Oireachtas intended. It is strongly of the opinion that it is in the public interest that there is no further delay in introducing a statutory code.”

SIPO also repeated its long-standing calls for changes to the ethics laws. In particular, it wants to be allowed to initiate its own inquiries. The commission can only appoint an inquiry officer in cases where a complaint is first made.

But the Government has rejected that call, saying it is satisfied with the existing powers held by SIPO.

Elsewhere, SIPO said that while existing safeguards to prevent corruption in Ireland are considered strong by international standards, “a continuing effort is required to ensure that this remains the case”.

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