Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 27 September 2012
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
Before we deal with the business of the committee, I remind members that the Comptroller and Auditor General's annual report on the 2011 accounts will be published today. At the end of the public session the Comptroller and Auditor General has agreed to give us a general briefing on the document. Before we leave, we will have an understanding of what is included generally in the document which will then be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas today.
Item No. 1 is the minutes of the last meeting. Are they agreed to? Agreed.
Two matters arise from the minutes. One relates to the invitation from the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Joe Costello, to the committee to visit a country to examine the expenditure of development aid. The committee agreed that it would send a delegation later this year. The original suggestion was that we send a delegation to Ethiopia. However, having examined requirements with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, it has now been suggested Mozambique would be a more appropriate country to examine for the following reasons: it is the subject of Ireland’s largest bilateral aid programme, included in which is general government support, which is not the case in the case of Ethiopia. A wide range of supports are also being provided in Mozambique. What we want to ensure is that the aid programme, the figure for which was €657 million in 2011, is effective in the service it delivers to programme countries and that all the systems in place to channel the money to meet the cost of front-line services are efficient. To that end, the delegation will be able to follow the money trail at first hand and judge the impact of programmes on the ground by visiting projects in some of the poorest areas of the world. That is the thrust of the visit to which we have agreed. I have asked the clerk to work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to put the programme together.
The second item arising from the minutes is a review of public sector allowances. We must agree on how we can proceed in the examination. At last week’s meeting we agreed that we would examine the payment of allowances. To that end, the clerk wrote to all Accounting Officers seeking the details of such payments. They were informed that it was the intent of the committee that there would be an appropriate follow-up by it on the issue by way of public hearings. The committee is aware that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, is due to brief it on Thursday, 11 October. The briefing will form the commencement of the review. To date, 800 business cases on allowances have been submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the majority of which have argued for the maintenance of the allowances. We will commence that arrangement after our meeting with the Minister.
The minutes state it was agreed that the committee would examine the issue of allowance payments as part of its examination of the accounts of public bodies in 2012 and 2013. It was stated requests would be made to all Accounting Officers and accountable persons for details of payments. I have read in newspapers and other forums something to the contrary - that we would have speeded-up hearings in some form, with which I do not necessarily disagree. What I do disagree with is one member of the committee, be it the Chairman or whoever else, dictating in the media and the public domain what the committee will do without recourse to the committee and its members before we have a meeting to discuss what we will do. That is not how a committee operates. Members of a committee should be treated fairly.
I wish to be clear on two issues. The business cases have been made, but the information is not complete. Therefore, it is important, when we request information, that we receive a list of allowances in each Department, the amounts of the allowances, the numbers in receipt of allowances and the total amount. It is also important that we receive an indication of the average salaries of grades receiving allowances or those in receipt of the lowest and highest salaries and those who are in the middle in order that the information is complete. We know from the business cases made that some have provided the information, while others have not. If we are to be successful in identifying where we think savings could be made, we will need to know how much we are talking about in each instance.
My second point relates to how the Chairman envisages matters proceeding from when the Minister comes before the committee. Is he coming on 10 October?
I have discussed matters with the clerk who has been deciding how matters will proceed. We are required to gather a lot of information, not just on the business cases made but also other information which the Deputy has detailed from each Department. That information has been requested. As we have the business cases, members will then have all of the other information requested from the Accounting Officers. The clerk is putting together the list of Accounting Officers and the dates that might suit to meet them. It is not an easy task and the same date will not suit everyone. That work is under way. Between now and 11 October when the Minister will come before the committee, we will have gathered a significant amount of information which members will receive. It will then just be a matter of detailing when each Accounting Officer will appear before the committee.
Clerk to the Committee:
We need to follow up on a number of issues. We have looked for the details sought by Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I have given Departments until the week of 11 October to come back with the full information. There is another element to it - I am unsure as to whether we will be given access to it - namely, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s attitude to each submission. We might want to write to the Minister in that regard and obtain those papers. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will be representated at each of the meetings with the Accounting Officers.
Clerk to the Committee:
When we receive the information, it will be necessary to carry out an analysis. The question arises as to whether we should go to every Accounting Officer. The bulk of the allowances relate to a number of Departments which are the key Departments. The suggestion is we analyse the information submitted, hold the information sessions and then compile a report afterwards. I propose that we employ a consultant to help us to analyse the business cases made and prepare a report. The suggestion is we have that work done prior to the budget, which points to having the work done in October in order to prepare a report and submit it to the Department. That is the way I envisage matters proceeding. I will come back next week with a detailed note for members, if necessary.
-----and that there would be a structured feed-in to ensure all members of the committee are aware of the process? We have written to the Departments. In terms of the way we will structure the hearings, the committee has a reputation for being independent of mind, inclusive and working very much in the public interest. The public would like to see the actual process as much as the end result because the process is very important. I ask that the letter sent to the individual Departments be circulated to members and, as matters progress, that members be given a progress report via the clerk on how matters are proceedings to ensure that when the Minister comes before the committee, we will know the body of work we will have to do thereafter. Our hearing with the Minister will be influenced by our body of work. We should put in place a structured process in terms of how the hearings will take place over a period of time and feed that into the information we are requesting. A first step would be if the letters to the Departments could be circulated to us.
The clerk would do the letter in the normal course of events and, as the information comes in, someone would be working on it to compile it with the formal documentation that is available to members so that we are fully informed of it.
An issue members should be conscious of is that Deputies, Ministers and Senators would be in receipt of various allowances. It is important that in conducting a review of allowances, we are conscious that Members of the Oireachtas, Ministers, and others, in terms of leaders' allowances and so on, are also in receipt of these allowances. Are the allowances being paid to Members of the Oireachtas and Ministers included in that review? The public would consider it a bit rich if the Committee of Public Accounts was to review of allowances paid in the public arena out of public funds and specifically exclude allowances paid to Ministers, Deputies and Senators. What is our position on that? We do not want to leave ourselves open to the obvious criticism that could arise and we should clear our lines on this issue at the outset.
I agree with that. The logical conclusion from what Deputy Fleming is saying is that if the secretaries general of the Departments are asked to answer questions about that, Deputies, Senators and Ministers should probably be asked to answer questions about it as well. If we are taking the attitude that we should be the investigators of this, we should be investigated also. Is that not reasonable?
Clerk to the Committee:
We can write to them. Some of those allowances are probably based on legislation but it is a matter we can take up with them. It can be taken up first with the Minister when he is here on the 11th. We can also probably write to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission which pays these allowances and ask that if it is not within the remit of this body, a separate review should probably be undertaken. I only suggest this because-----
Deputy Ross is right that it will be difficult for us to evaluate our own allowances but at the very least we can, as a committee, go through the same process regarding those allowances as we can on others, which is, get out the information as to what they are worth, how they are evaluated and whether there is a business case behind them.
We will seek the information.
No. 3 is correspondence received since our meeting on Thursday, 20 September 2012.
No. 3C is individual correspondence - complaints.
No. 3C1 is correspondence from Mr. Donagh Morgan, assistant secretary, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. We deferred this at our last meeting. Deputy McDonald is not present again today. She is in the Chamber for the Order of Business and therefore we will defer it again by agreement of the members.
No. 3C2 is correspondence received on 10 September 2012, which is the same matter and we will defer it.
No. 3C3 is correspondence received on 18 September 2012 from Mr. Niall Murphy re Allied Irish Banks. This is to be noted. Mr. Murphy previously wrote to the Committee of Public Accounts in 2012. This letter was forwarded to the Department of Finance and the reply outlined that this matter falls within the remit of the Central Bank and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. A copy of the correspondence is to be forwarded to it for direct reply, and Mr. Murphy will be informed accordingly.
No. 3C4 is correspondence dated 21 September 2012 from Mr. William Treacy, Ballybrophy, Portlaoise, County Laois, re the Turf Club and Horse Racing Ireland. That correspondence is to be noted. The committee has written to Mr. Treacy and outlined that the issues raised do not fall within our terms of reference and therefore we cannot pursue the matter any further.
I understand from the last meeting that we would write directly to Mr. Treacy. I would like to receive a copy of that letter. I am aware this other correspondence was received since last week and when I have an opportunity to study the recent correspondence, I will seek to raise the issue at another meeting.
That is okay.
No. 3D is documents relating to today's meetings. No. 3D1 is correspondence received on 20 September 2012 from Professor Brian MacCraith, President, Dublin City University, re briefing papers on matters to be considered at the meeting of 27 September 2012. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3D2 is correspondence received on 20 September 2012 from Dr. Patrick Prendergast, Provost, Trinity College Dublin, re briefing paper on matters to be considered at the meeting of 27 September 2012. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3D3 is correspondence received on 21 September 2012 from Dr. Hugh Brady, President, University College Dublin, re briefing papers on matters to be considered at the meeting of 27 September 2012. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3D4 is correspondence received on 21 September 2012 from Dr. Ruaidhrí Neavyn, President, Waterford Institute of Technology, re briefing paper on matters to be considered at the meeting of 27 September 2012. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3D5 is correspondence received on 25 September 2012 from Professor Brian MacCraith, President, Dublin City University, re opening statement. This is to be noted and published.
No. 3D6 is correspondence received on 25 September 2012 from Dr. Patrick Prendergast, Provost, Trinity College Dublin, re opening statement. This is to be noted and published.
No. 4 is reports, statements and accounts received since the meeting of 20 September 2012, which are listed from 4.1 to 4.6. All of these reports, statements and accounts are to be noted.
No. 5 is our work programme. The work programme is now on the screen and if members have any comments or changes they wish to make to that, either at the meeting or thereafter, they can contact the clerk.
No. 6 is the draft report on the Health Service Executive. To complete this report and having regard to the fact that the HSE reports published last week continue to show an overrun, I propose we call in the HSE and the Department to deal specifically with the ongoing budget overruns. I have asked the clerk to contact both bodies and the date both Accounting Officers are available is Tuesday, 9 October 2012 at 5.30 p.m. Is that suitable for members? Agreed.
No. 7 is any other business. Is the agenda for the meeting on 4 October 2012 agreed? Agreed.
On the 2010 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts, Special Report No. 78: Matters arising out of Education Audits (resumed) and the Annual Accounts of the Higher Education Authority, HEA, 2011, our meeting next week will be with the chief executive officer of the Higher Education Authority and with senior officials of the Department of Education and Skills. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will now call the witnesses.