Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Priority Questions.

Defence Forces Expenditure.

2:00 pm

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Question 1: To ask the Minister for Defence if, in view of a statement to the Houses of the Oireachtas on 27 June 2007, he will take steps to have the Chief of Staff made the accounting officer for Defence Forces expenditure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13507/08]

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I apologise for the absence of the Minister for Defence due to illness.

The overall system of financial management and accountability in respect of defence spending was specially reviewed as part of the efficiency audit group process in the 1990s. As a result, the Government decided that the Secretary General of the Department of Defence should continue to be the Accounting Officer for all defence spending and that greater financial authority should be delegated to the military authorities. This position was restated in the White Paper on Defence, published in February 2000.

Since the Pricewaterhouse report, a substantial amount of day-to-day expenditure has been delegated to the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces. More than €215 million, including €59 million for Permanent Defence Force allowances, has been delegated in 2008. The delegated amount represents 68% of total Defence Forces non-pay expenditure in the 2008 defence Estimate. The delegation covers a wide range of spending areas, including Defence Forces allowances, transport, equipment, training, engineering and IT. In addition, the Chief of Staff has authority to undertake general recruitment within the overall approved strength level of 10,500 personnel in the Permanent Defence Force.

The present system of delegating financial authority to the Chief of Staff has worked well and the current approach meets overall defence requirements from both an operational and a financial management point of view. The civil and military elements of the Department of Defence jointly operate a modern management information framework. Senior civil and military management meet on a regular basis at the high level planning and procurement group and the strategic management committee to review and monitor financial and other performance indicators. These systems work very well and there are no plans to change them. It is, of course, a matter for other organisations to adopt financial management systems best suited to their own requirements.

The defence organisation as a whole has been one of the success stories of the public service reform and modernisation agenda in recent years. The management and accountability framework within which both the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces operate has contributed to this achievement.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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I join with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, in wishing the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, a speedy recovery.

Two years ago the Garda Commissioner was designated the Accounting Officer for the Garda Síochána. Why should the Chief of Staff not be designated as the accounting officer for the Defence Forces? This approach was recommended by the first efficiency audit group report in 1990 and also by the Gleeson report. The former report indicated that it was a fundamental problem that the Secretary General of the Department, as Accounting Officer, was accountable for the spending of the defence Votes but was responsible neither for the actions of military staff, whose activities account for over 97% of the Vote, nor for the successful and efficient achievement of operations and military objectives. Conversely, the Chief of Staff, and Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General are directly answerable to the Minister for Defence for the control of some 13,000 staff and for the objectives and outputs of the Defence Forces but cannot control the budgets allocated to these outputs, which are largely under the control of the secretariat. This does not seem reasonable. Delegation is not responsibility.

Is there any indication of a change in the future? Will the Chief of Staff come to the Dáil and appear before the Committee of Public Accounts to account for the actions and expenditure of the Defence Forces? It is unfair on the Chief of Staff that he must be accountable for the actions of personnel but cannot appoint them. The Chief of Staff should be able to make critical decisions on where to spend resources within the Defence Forces, but he cannot do that. It is the role of the Secretary General. Is there any overview being taken of this in the context of the decision that was made about the Garda Commissioner, for example?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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It is important to acknowledge that the Defence Forces has been one of the success stories of public service reform. The structures, roles and reporting arrangements of organisations differ from the management of defence. I would like to reflect briefly on the difference between the Garda and the Defence Forces, although we do not have much time. The Department of Defence, with a Minister as head, has a civil and military element. The civil element is headed by the Secretary General and the military element by the Chief of Staff. The relationships among the Chief of Staff, the Secretary General and the Minister are established in the Defence Acts. The Secretary General is the Minister's principal policy adviser and he or she is also the Accounting Officer. Day-to-day operational control of the Defence Forces rests with the Chief of Staff, for which he or she is directly responsible to the Minister. Effective operation of this structure is critical to the management of defence. This pragmatic and balanced legal framework operates to maximise the efficacy of defence provision. It respects the role of the Chief of Staff and the overarching principle of ensuring civil control of the military.

The arrangements in the Garda Síochána and the HSE are presumably appropriate to their respective roles, relationships and structures. I am aware the Garda Commissioner, as the Deputy said, performs the role of Accounting Officer for the Garda, reporting to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform through the Secretary General of the Department. It would be unwise to assume that this could be applied to the benefit of the defence organisation. It is a different scenario. We have had many debates about semi-State bodies and the need for ministerial accountability but this has worked well for the Defence Forces. We will continue to improve management as required.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, said here last June that the individual responsible for the output must be responsible for the finance. That is a critical role. It is happening in the Garda and now also in the HSE. I also remind the Minister of State that delegation is not the same as being the Accounting Officer. I know that a new White Paper is being prepared. Can the Minister of State give a commitment that this aspect of the Defence Forces arrangements will be considered in the White Paper?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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Looking to the future, the organisation and management of the Defence Forces will be improved and modernised as required, but I stand by my position with regard to the difference between the areas of defence and justice.