Robert Watt's €81k pay rise showed 'scant regard for transparency'

The damning report has found the appointment was conducted in "a very poor way" and made 14 recommendations
Robert Watt's €81k pay rise showed 'scant regard for transparency'

Robert Watt was appointed as Secretary-General of the department of Health at a total salary of €292,000 - €81,000 in excess of that paid to other secretary-generals. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Robert Watt's €81k pay increase came with "scant regard for transparency", a report into his appointment as the head of the Department of Health has found.

In April of this year, Mr Watt was appointed as Secretary-General of the department at a total salary of €292,000 - €81,000 in excess of that paid to other secretary-generals. 

Now, a damning report has found the appointment was conducted in "a very poor way". 

The report, by the Joint Committee on Finance, said the "lack of transparency and accountability involved and the impact on public confidence and trust is a source of serious concern".

It says there was no process followed in terms of how Mr Watt was appointed to the role from his previous role as secretary-general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, where he was central to the design of the new pay package.

"No formal process was engaged in, either in terms of identifying an interim appointee or setting the salary level. 

"The only rationale in this regard appears to have been to offer an enhanced salary but to ensure the total salary on offer was below €300,000. 

"The stated purpose of the enhanced salary was to attract high-calibre candidates, particularly international applicants, but the Committee heard that of the 23 applicants, only three were from abroad."

John McGuinness, Cathaoirleach of the Finance Committee, said the size of the salary sent a bad message to the public.

“The Committee is conscious of how the public is likely to perceive a large salary increase against the backdrop of the economic hardship caused to many by the pandemic and the level of increases provided for public servants – 1% under the Public Service Stability Agreement versus the 40% increase in the case of the Secretary-General post."

The report makes 14 recommendations, including:

  • That a formal process for appointments, both interim and permanent, to senior posts in the public service is established and followed;
  • That verbal briefings at Cabinet on such appointments, specifically the attached pay and conditions, which may be or are likely to be subject to public interest should not be permitted;
  • A body similar to the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector be established immediately to review the pay of senior posts in Civil Service
  • That formal "data-led and scientific" process is followed in the setting of salary levels for specific roles
  • That Ministers' power to set individual salaries, terms and conditions be reviewed
  • Interim appointments, particularly those at a senior level where individuals are in a position to apply for permanent positions, should not be sanctioned in the absence of clear and objective criteria
  • The Top-Level Appointments Commission (TLAC) be established as a wholly independent body that operates as a distinct entity outside of and separate from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

Mr McGuinness was critical of Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Mr Watt, who he said "replied with a press release" when invited before the Committee.

“Many senior politicians and senior civil servants obstructed the course of the committee’s hearings. We got very little co-operation from the Taoiseach," he said.

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