Fás scandal - Resignations should have come sooner

YESTERDAY’S announcement by Fás chairman Peter McLoone that the organisation’s 17-member board will resign at its next meeting will be loudly applauded from one end of the country to the other.

Ever since last week’s damning report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) exposing an incredible waste of taxpayers’ money in the state-controlled job-training body, the board’s position has been untenable.

What the C&AG revealed was a Fás landscape characterised by lavish entertainment budgets and bloated expenses, a level of wastage presided over by the board that by any standard was indefensible. Meanwhile, serious breaches of procurement procedures in the organisation’s corporate affairs division – in other words fraud – are being investigated by the gardaí.

While no wrongdoing is imputed to the directors, it is patently clear that they failed to fulfil their corporate role. Given the implications of the C&AG expose, they simply did not do their job and had no option but to fall on their swords.

Yet, astonishingly, until yesterday’s surprise announcement there seemed every prospect the directors would be allowed hold onto their boardroom seats until an overhaul of the organisation had been completed. Outrageously, there was no indication this appalling Government was prepared to take decisive action and demand their resignation.

Indeed, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan has been roundly criticised in these columns for dithering when she should have been assertive. Considering the sheer scale of wastage at Fás, it is incomprehensible that she thought it was not up to her to dictate to the board.

Conceivably, had she told them to go, she might have emerged from this sordid affair with some credit, a rare enough commodity in political circles nowadays.

It was only when Taoiseach Brian Cowen suggested the overhaul of Fás would be accelerated that board members saw the writing on the wall. Effectively, they lost the confidence of Government.

Adding to the woes of this beleaguered administration, Libertas leader Declan Ganley yesterday confirmed his involvement in the anti-Lisbon Treaty camp.

Hopefully his political resurrection will provoke the Yes camp to intensify its campaign.

Further intensifying the political drama, the coalition will also face strong opposition on Wednesday when TDs return prematurely from their long holidays to finally debate the NAMA plan in the Dáil, almost six months after the initiative was first mooted.

Meanwhile, as far as the public is concerned, change cannot come quickly enough at Fás.

The Government must ensure that similar practices are not going on in other state bodies or, for that matter, in political circles.

Considering the scandalous example set by some people in high places, it is perhaps not surprising that a culture of self-gratification has tended to flourish unchecked.

A jaundiced public is fed up the teeth of politicians and officials who put private gain before public service and think nothing of squandering taxpayers’ money.


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