There has been a call from within the Dáil’s spending watchdog for a full investigation into public money wasted on approximately €450m worth of unused PPE and ventilators bought during the pandemic.
The Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard today that there has been no internal review into the €80m spend by the State on ventilators during Covid-19 which were never used.
During questioning at a meeting of the PAC, David Maloney who is Secretary-General at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, said he was “not aware” of any review into how the misspend occurred.
“I'm not aware that there's been a review but in relation to the various responses to the Covid pandemic, one of the things the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) did was that it offered advice and assistance to the HSE outdoors organisations in terms of responding to that,” he said.
Not satisfied with that response, Independent TD Verona Murphy pressed Mr Maloney on the matter saying it was clear there has been no oversight or accountability on equipment that was never used and ended up being donated to India.
In addition to the spend on ventilators, it emerged last year that €375m worth of PPE equipment bought in during the early stages of the pandemic was unusable.
“I'm asking in particular to the €80m spent on ventilators that we never got to use, that we didn't get the money back then and that was subsequently donated to India or other countries. So that's what I mean, there's no value for money there,” she said.
Ms Murphy called for a “full investigation” into how money was not spent correctly saying even with the presence of the OGP huge sums of money were wasted.
At this point during the meeting, the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy intervened and informed members that he is examining the spend of public money on ventilators and he will report in due course. Mr Maloney said the OGP has delivered savings worth €500m since its inception.
Detailing the actual salaries of top civil servants to the Dáil’s spending watchdog could raise “potential legal issues” Mr Maloney said. Mr Maloney said the department also took action to provide for the disclosure of the Accounting Officer's salary in the 2021 account and committed to examining this issue further for 2022.
But he warned that by giving specific details, there is a threat of legal action.
“I know that the committee has subsequently sought further changes in this regard, to provide actual levels of remuneration, rather than as set out in the circular. There is a need to have regard to potential legal issues which may arise in this instance,” he said.
He also said that despite these legal threats, the department is considering this further, with a view to the 2022 account, and possibly also as an additional note for the 2021 account.
“We are also reviewing the points raised in respect of greater disclosure around pay, and will be engaging in consultation with other Departments on this issue shortly,” he said.
“I know that the committee has signalled its wish to discuss the format of the Appropriation Accounts today. I know also that the committee has written to the department in respect of the manner in which a number of issues are dealt with in the Appropriation Account, including pay, funding received from European funds, and legal costs paid by departments,” Mr Maloney said.
"As you will know, the department, on foot of earlier requests from the committee, took action for the 2021 accounts to revise the presentation of legal costs.
“This will allow for both an examination of costs arising in the year of account, and also to disclose the total costs of cases which were settled in that year. We will, of course, review the impact of that change, along with any views from the committee and the C&AG, to see whether further change is needed in 2022."