Gardaí to probe inconsistencies in ETB tenders

Gardaí have been sent details of inconsistencies around whether proper tendering took place for work on a Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (ETB) property by a company with family links to the board’s former chief executive.

Gardaí to probe inconsistencies in ETB tenders

By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

Gardaí have been sent details of inconsistencies around whether proper tendering took place for work on a Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (ETB) property by a company with family links to the board’s former chief executive.

The issue is detailed in the report of an investigation ordered 11 months ago by Education Minister Richard Bruton into procurement and other matters at the board. The minister said he has serious concerns about the matters on which findings are made in the report.

His department received the report in July and has referred it to the Garda National Economic Bureau.

Richard Thorn’s report, published yesterday, said two of the matters he was asked to probe, in relation to procurement, use and disposal of assets, and other issues, have been referred to gardaí.

One relates to the process by which a company connected through a family member to then Kildare and Wicklow ETB chief executive Seán Ashe was contracted to carry out works on a building in Naas, intended for use as a training facility.

The premises was leased by the ETB from June 2015; an aide-memoire by Mr Ashe on its files says he asked the company to do electrical, air conditioning, and other work to make the property safe.

Mr Ashe retired as Kildare and Wicklow ETB chief executive last December, two months after the investigation was ordered.

Mr Thorn’s investigation found, if adhered to, governance arrangements around procurement in place at Kildare and Wicklow ETB in 2015, 2016, and 2017 were sufficient to ensure conflicts of interest did not arise in procurement matters.

The investigation report says that Mr Ashe told the Department of Education last September that a company related to the one with family links to him had been asked in 2015 to make the property in Naas safe and that they would use two offices in lieu of the costs.

The first company subsequently occupied part of the building in return for a rent waiver against work undertaken, but the waiver agreement was withdrawn for tax reasons.

An invoice for rent and utilities, totalling €8,519, was issued last July for a 10-month occupation from August 2015. The first of three invoices regarding the cost of the works was dated January 2016 for €19,100.

Mr Thorn said no documents associated with the rent and refurbishment of the building were given by the ETB to him, or previously to the Comptroller and Auditor General or Department of Education. Mr Thorn said Mr Ashe was also offered the opportunity to provide information on tendering of the remedial works when he was interviewed but none was forthcoming.

Last December, Mr Thorn received an email with an attached report of the tendering of the works, dated December 15, 2015, and prepared by a third company.

A separate email from the company to KWETB with some back-up documents was also sent.

Mr Thorn’s report said there are several inconsistencies in the narrative, including a lack of contemporaneous documentary or oral confirmation that tendering took place other than from the former chief executive and the tender report and documents produced last December.

He said the time between the December 15, 2015, date of the tender report and the January 2016 invoice appeared very short, given the intervening Christmas period, to allow response to the successful tenderer, for the contractor to mobilise on site, and the work to be undertaken.

The report says the fact that an invoice was issued for rent and utilities covering a period of occupation before the date of the tender report supports the former chief executive’s original assertion that the company was requested to do works in return for a rent waiver and so was already in occupation of the building prior to the date of the tender report.

Mr Thorn wrote that he could not make a finding as to the authenticity of the tender process disclosed very late in his investigation.

“Determination of the authenticity of the tender report and documentation [sic] reconciliation of the inconsistencies requires investigative powers beyond the scope of this investigation and the matter has been forwarded to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau,” he wrote.

Mr Thorn’s report found several inconsistencies beyond his powers to investigate also surround procurement of minor building works, and this matter has also been referred to the bureau.

ETB board welcomes investigator’s report 

Seán Ashe, former chief executive of Kildare and Wicklow ETB did not reply to a request for comment yesterday.

He told the Irish Examiner he wished to read the report by the investigator Richard Thorn first.

Arising from the report’s findings, Education Minister Richard Bruton plans to make the first use of legal powers to direct the ETB to take a number of actions, including a review of measures to prevent conflicts of interest and inappropriate interventions in procurement processes.

The board welcomed the report and Mr Bruton’s acknowledgement of work to date to implement actions on foot of a draft report in January.

Current chief executive Deirdre Keyes said directions proposed by Mr Bruton under the 2013 Education and Training Boards Act are also welcomed, and that the ETB board will meet shortly to review them.

They also include a requirement for mandatory governance training for new and existing board members, and to ensure obligations to report to gardaí, the Comptroller and Auditor General or other statutory agencies, in relation to matters addressed in the Thorn report are addressed.

The Irish Examiner made serveral attempts to contact Mr Ashe for comment.

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