Thursday, 14 February 2019
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
4. To ask the Minister for Finance the expenditure details for all consultancy or audit services provided to his Department by a company (details supplied) from 2015 to 2018 and to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7562/19]
There is great concern, and growing awareness, at the huge sums paid by Government Departments to outside firms. This question relates to PricewaterhouseCooper, PwC. I am asking the Minister to state how much that company has received from the Minister's Department between 2015 and 2018 and this year to date.
My Department engaged PricewaterhouseCooper, PWC, on one occasion between 2015 up to and including today’s date in 2019. The gross cost of this engagement was €73,031.25.
The purpose of the engagement was to carry out a money laundering and terrorist financing national risk assessment. The aim of this assessment was to identify, understand and assess the money laundering and terrorist financing risks faced by Ireland. The findings of the national risk assessment have been used to inform the development and enhancement of Ireland’s anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing framework.
My Department publishes details of consultancy expenditure on its website on a quarterly basis.
Last year, before any of the recent farce relating to the national children's hospital came to full public prominence, I submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister and his other Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I was genuinely surprised to find that in one year alone, 2018, the Department spent €3.5 million on consultancy firms. According to that answer, PwC received €44,500 and now the Minister is telling me that it is €73,000. There is a disparity when it comes to getting the correct answer to parliamentary questions. The Minister said it was €73,000, but the previous answer said it was €44,000, and that figure was for what the Department described as operational support and strategic advisory consultancy. Will the Minister accept that when the public hears these kinds of sums being thrown around for private consultancy firms it does nothing to persuade people that any meaningful value for money takes place at all?
Will the Minister also explain why there appears to be a huge overlap in relation to work being undertaken by different consultancy firms, in case the Minister thinks that I am picking on PwC, which I am not? For example, last year, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform paid Gartner €182,000 for advisory services. It also paid Horizon Energy €230,000. What is all this money for? What is the Department getting for this sort of money?
I stood up and said that we have employed this company once between 2015 and today. This company has been employed for us on a single occasion. Instead the Deputy stands up and bases an answer on what he would like to hear-----
-----rather than the information I gave the Deputy. This company, across the time period to which I was asked to refer, has been used on a single occasion by my Department.
The Deputy will stand up day after day and lambaste the ability and competence of my officials to perform their work. When they seek to gain external support for the delivery of their duties, he lambastes that too. I reiterate my answer that the Deputy either ignored or chose not to hear a moment ago, namely, that the company was employed on one occasion by my Department in the period to which he referred.
The Minister is the one who is lambasting. External firms are being paid and he stated that his Departments are not able to carry out a review. Surely, one of his officials could do it. Can they not add? In reply to a parliamentary question last year, the Minister informed me that it cost €44,500, yet he is now saying it was approximately €73,000. There is a disparity of €30,000. Who is codding whom? The Department has spin doctors and everything else. I am not seeking any answers but rather the facts. I am quoting from a reply to a parliamentary question. There is an overlap of companies among multiple Departments which the Minister has not explained. Thankfully, the public are able to watch and scrutinise the debate.
Will the Minister indicate whether PwC has played any other consulting roles in respect of the children's hospital apart from the review which is under way and which costs €450,000? PwC has been engaged but that was not included in the Minister's reply. I am sure that the price has been agreed but given that the terms of reference have been extended, will the cost increase? The firm has no expertise in construction or what we wish to find out. It is merely papering over the cracks. The Minister is the one who is lambasting and covering things up through the use of spin doctors and everything else.
When the Deputy does not like my reply to him, he makes up what he thinks I said and uses that as the basis of his answer. At what point did I lambaste the competency of my officials in my answer? I made the point that the Deputy is the one who lambastes and that we need specialist help in certain areas, we must acquire that help for the best value available.
I reiterate my answer to the Deputy, although I accept that he is disappointed by it. We have employed the company in question once and I have told the Deputy the cost. If there is a discrepancy between the answer we gave in the past and the answer I am giving now, it could be driven by two factors, namely, the possible difference between the period to which the answer refers and the period the Deputy raised, or the Deputy might be referring to another Department. Either way, if there is a gap between the answers, I will reconcile them and supply the information to the House.
There is a gap between the figures of €44,500 and €73,000. It is a lot of money to ordinary Joe Soaps, although it might not be a lot to the Minister, his plethora of advisers or his competent officials. The Department employs external agencies and officials, but the Minister has provided alarming sums. He said the Department employed PwC only once. If he had said it employed the firm twice, perhaps he would have wriggle room. He stated that it was once in that period, however, and quoted a figure of €73,000, yet I was given a figure of €44,500. That is real money to ordinary taxpayers. This is an example of the Minister's flippant answers and the activities of the spin doctors the Department employs to try to pull the wool over people's eyes. We want transparency, openness and accountability but there is not a shred of that in the Department, as has been blatantly proven over and over again, not least in the case of the children's hospital fiasco.
I am not here to lambaste people; I am here for the truth. I represent the people of County Tipperary and the ordinary people throughout the country who struggle every day to pay their taxes. Meanwhile, the Government spends money like confetti at a wedding or snuff at a wake, as though it is all right because it can be blown away. Before the debate, I attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, which is considering scheduling time next week to debate the Revised Estimates thanks to this mess, or black hole, of a children's hospital. I am not accusing anyone of anything. Rather, I am seeking straight answers from the Minister but I am not getting them.
Even this brief exchange might provide an explanation for the two different figures. The Deputy may be referring to another Department and not the Department of Finance. Notwithstanding the Deputy's references to confetti and snuff, I also represent and serve ordinary people and I am aware of the concerns they have about the use of taxpayers' money.
As stated, the Deputy will be disappointed to hear that the company has been employed only once by us and that it was for good work that needed to be done. If there is any difference between the figures I previously shared with the Deputy and the current figures, I will explain the reason to the House. I thank the Deputy for bringing it to my attention, even though I suspect he might be referring to another Department.