YET again, the annual report of the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG), Seamus McCarthy, on the accounts of the public services for 2017 brings us further tales of scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money, made even more serious by the fact that the country faces major crises in the housing and health sectors.
One of the most shocking revelations in the report is the €15.8m cost to the taxpayer of the new Department of Health headquarters on Dublin’s Baggot Street being left lying idle for 17 months because of disagreements with staff over the internal layout of the former Bank of Ireland HQ. This week, officials from the Department of Health and the Office of Public Works have been trying to defend the indefensible before the Public Accounts Committee, safe in the knowledge that they will hang on to their well-paid jobs regardless, whereas if this happened in the private sector, heads would roll.
Nothing can justify that amount of waste and it is yet another blot on the copybook of the health service. And, it’s not the only one exposed by the C&AG report
It emerged that the HSE had not monitored or collated information about how individual hospital consultants divide their time between public and private patients at individual level when the C&AG sought same. There have been allegations that some consultants are not fulfilling the quota of hours they are obliged to devote to public patients.
Since this gap in public accountability was discovered by the auditors, officials from the Department of Health and the HSE came up with a less-than-satisfactory response earlier in the year, a typical sticking plaster solution, allowing consultants to certify themselves that they are complying with their contractual obligations. No wonder the public health sector is the way it is!
The sooner public hospitals become just that – with private patients only being treated in private hospitals – the better, so that there can be no ambiguity about consultants’ activities.
They are among the best-paid people in the country and, interestingly, the C&AG report also points out some anomalies in our tax system, which sees some of the richest people in the State paying less income tax than the average industrial worker.
It just goes to show how easily our tax system can be manipulated. Employing the top accountancy firms, some of the country’s wealthiest people have been able to use our system of credits and reliefs to reduce their tax bills to almost derisory amounts in the context of their net worth.
Obviously, this is totally legal, but most PAYE workers struggling to make ends meet would regard it as immoral. Our low corporation tax rate has, unfairly or not, tainted Ireland as a tax haven for multi-national companies and wealthy people availing of income tax loopholes here only adds to this unwanted reputation and breeds further resentment.
Another big-ticket item of concern that was pointed out by the C&AG was the Garda overtime bill, which has been spiralling in recent years, rising in 2017 to 50% more than what was projected. This was attributable to the cost of taking on the drugs gangs as well as the implementation of a Labour Court pay recommendation.
However, it is clear that Garda management needs to bring such spending under control as there is not a bottomless pit of money available.