The cavalier attitude of government departments and highly paid advisers towards public projects that involve the money of beleaguered taxpayers is mind boggling.
For the umpteenth time, this mind set comes under the glare of the spotlight in a damning Public Accounts Committee report previewed on today’s front page.
The latest in a depressingly long litany of botched public projects, a legacy characterised by the squandering of millions of euro on useless electronic voting machines, concerns the ill-fated “Bertie Bowl” — the misnamed and vainglorious National Campus and Stadium. Also under the microscope is a legal case involving the National Aquatic Centre, the only part of the stadium project to come to fruition, and itself the subject of considerable controversy.
The report is the end product of a painstaking investigation into how Campus Stadium Ireland persisted with a pointless and costly legal action against a businessman for €10m relating to a Vat issue over the running of the 50-metre pool at Abbotstown.
“Sharp practice” is alleged, and the damning conclusion is that the High Court action over the Vat bill should never have been pursued. Indeed, the matter could have been settled in 2002, fully eight years before the Supreme Court found in 2010 the businessman was not liable for the bill. To make matters worse, the court ruled that, had he been liable, the net gain to the exchequer would have been nil because the monies could have been recouped in a rebate.
Not mincing its words, the PAC is severely critical of the departments of finance, arts, sports and tourism, as well as the Revenue Commissioners. Firing a broadside at the handling of the stadium project, it singles out what it calls “highly paid experts” who were retained to advise on its development. While not named, they come in for criticism over the quality of advice given to the state agency.
Such an appalling waste of public money is intolerable. It reflects a glaring lack of accountability among civil servants and the highly paid advisers recruited so frequently by government departments with little regard to cost or value for money.
The criticism of Campus Stadium Ireland and the Department of Sport is expected to be scathing. But whether the condemnation will ever have any meaningful effect is open to debate.
Criticism will be worthless as long as those responsible for this kind of debacle remain anonymous and protected by a lack of accountability; a malaise that goes to the heart of the wastage of public money.
Despite legislation aimed at ruling out cock-ups in public capital projects, judging by past experience, more of the same can be anticipated because the thinking in government departments appears to be based on the view that whenever taxpayers’ money is involved, accountability simply goes out the window.
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