C&AG report - Why do we tolerate this awful waste?

THE publication this week by the Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley into how the state wastes resources did not disappoint.

The usual scandalous mismanagement and serial inefficiencies were brought to our attention. We sat back grumbling and angry, more or less exactly what we will do when the C&AG publishes his next report 12 months from now.

We may have managed outrage for a few moments but, browbeaten and weary of despair, we moved on to something less provocative. Is it any wonder Fianna Fáil, and to a lesser degree the other political parties, can treat us like the fools we so readily seem to be?

There is hardly a home or a family that has not seen a change in its circumstances, in too many instances a radical change, because of the economic crisis caused by the ineptitude of our political leaders. This week’s buffoonery from Galway was just the latest indication of how our leaders see us and imagine their part in rebuilding the economy they did so much to destroy.

The scale of waste recorded by the C&AG is, as is usual, staggering but this year there is a whiff of something altogether more questionable.

Despite receiving a bid of €203 million to build Dublin’s national convention centre a government appointed steering committee opted for a €390m package from Spencer Dock Convention Centre Dublin (SDCCD), part of Johnny Ronan’s Treasury Holdings.

Because of this the Government is to make payments to SDCCD over 25 years for building and running the centre. Payments will be subject to indexation, and though the cost in today’s values is €€390m, the actual amount to be paid by 2035 will be €€713m. SDCCD will also be paid €€3.9m a month by the Government for the next five years.

Treasury Holdings and its subsidiaries have had loans worth more than €€1bn taken under the wing of the National Asset Management Agency. Is it any wonder that Johnny Ronan embraced former taoiseach Bertie Ahern so enthusiastically at the opening of the centre a few weeks ago?

The C&AG list is long, dispiriting and laced with a sense of déjà vu – land bought for twice what it was worth in Offaly, companies being paid for training courses they never provided, €33.8m paid to consultants for advice on the banking crisis, 24% of one-parent families paid more than they were entitled to, €22m awarded in contracts by the prison service without a tendering process – on and on it goes but will anyone be held to account? Will anyone, a politician or a public servant, be challenged because of this terrible waste of terribly scarce resources?

Our reality, and our pathetically compliant culture, mean that nothing will change and huge sums will be squandered carelessly, year after year. Just as Colm McCarthy did last year the C&AG has pointed – again this year – to waste costing more than we can afford.

In three months we are promised a budget that will make our hair stand on end. It will be a bitter pill to swallow even without considering the flagrant waste highlighted by the C&AG. If we don’t insist on profound change it will be no more than we deserve.


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