THE annual report from the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) has, over the years, exposed such terrible waste of public resources that we are all in debt to those who prepared it.
Every year it provides us with a few days of indignation and high-octane commentary; it turns the spotlight to the moral high ground. The report usually describes flagrant disregard for ethical standards. This year is no exception. However, our attention is quickly diverted by some other disappointment and we move on.
We seem content to have let off some steam, imagining that indignation is an achievement. Like someone throwing a stone in a cesspool we are happy to make a splash, if only for a moment.
Is this because we have become so worn and beaten by a culture that holds no one accountable for anything? Have we become that used to being dismissed as if we were no more than bit players in this soap opera?
Surely not, surely we expect more and surely we are prepared to insist on more?
Yesterday’s confirmation that Fás wasted enormous sums through inefficiency and directors feeling entitled to travel in the style of a minster for arts, sport and tourism will not surprise anyone. But what happened to those responsible?
A few of them muttered apologies and stood down but no one lost privileges or pensions. No one was fired, fined or charged. Someone may have retired early but did so on a full, index-linked pension. This was considered a punishment rather than what it really is – the longed-for dream of tens of thousands of workers.
Though what went on at Fás under a series of ministers was a scandal, we all fear that such behaviour is not confined to that agency. The lack of Government oversight shown at Fás may be replicated at other agencies and semi-state entities.
Despite their flagrance it is possible to have just the slightest sliver of sympathy for the Fás staff. After all, what did they do that John O’Donoghue, in his time as minister for arts, sport and tourism, did not? He travelled as if he was one of the Al Maktoums of Dubai. He ran up flight and expenses bills of more than €100,000 over two years.
He used the Government jet to return from France to a constituency event in Kerry; he ran up €900 a night hotel bills in Venice; limousine hire between terminals at Heathrow cost €400. He spent almost €10,000 on limousines during a week-long trip to London and Cheltenham racing festival. In the two months since these figures were made known Mr O’Donoghue has not felt it necessary to offer a proper explanation.
If this is how ministers behave can we be surprised if senior bureaucrats do the same?
Over the last few days we have had a bit of grandstanding from the Greens as they told us of the great job they had done changing NAMA legislation to safeguard taxpayers’ interests. At that same time we have watched as Liam Carroll asked the courts to support his collapsing property empire. All of these events are the consequences of our society’s inability to hold anyone accountable.
It is time we had an American-style public prosecutor with the power to go where he sees fit and challenge whom ever he sees fit. It is time we had the ability to impose real penalties on those who betray the trust conferred on them by public office and appointment. It is time to change our culture of mute acceptance.
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