‘Risk’ in control of €671m Irish Aid budget

A SHORTAGE of specialist staff has created an “unsustainable degree of risk” in the policing of Irish Aid’s €671m budget.

A report into the Limerick-based arm of the Department of Foreign Affairs said its location and Government policy had restricted the level of financial oversight.

This summer the audit committee of the Department of Foreign Affairs presented a report on how the overseas’ aid budget was managed and monitored.

The committee’s chairman, John S Pittock, said he supported a Farrell Grant Sparks Management Review of Irish Aid, finalised in mid-2009, which found Irish Aid was chronically understaffed.

The FGS review said that managers and workers calculated that there needed to be a 73% increase in staff, which would result in 134 new workers. However, the FGS review said, with reorganisation, 84 new employees would do.

At the time the FGS review was written there were 145 authorised posts in Irish Aid’s headquarters.

Today there are still 145 posts, although Irish Aid said this includes more specialists and the overseas workforce has grown.

Mr Pittock said his audit committee had been told of the additional staff. But he said nevertheless staff shortages had been identified as one of the “major risks” facing the department.

The audit report said following the public service recruitment ban, and the relocation of Irish Aid’s headquarters to Limerick, staffing had become a “significant and growing problem” for the department.

There had been particular difficulties relocating key diplomatic personnel to Limerick and filling specialist posts.

It said there were worrying problems because of a lack of accountants in the department’s evaluation and audit unit.

The report said it was concerned that there was a very limited number of qualified accountants in finance roles. And none of these were working in key decision making roles.

A statement from Irish Aid said it had boosted its staff since the original FGS management review. Overall, it now had 13 extra specialist compared with 2008. In the audit and evaluation unit there were 11 workers including a principal development specialist, four auditors, four evaluators, one executive office and an intern.

Irish Aid said an OECD peer review published in 2009 had recognised it as one of the best in the world with a rigorous process of internal checks.

However, the auditors said not withstanding the additions since 2008 it was still concerned about the lack of accountants and the availability of key skills.

It said its concerns were more pronounced because of the pressures on budgets and need for heightened financial controls.

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