A WATCHDOG on political expenses — who resigned from his position in frustration at the slow rate of expense reform last year — has said there is an “entitlements culture” in the Irish public sector.
In a hard-hitting article for Accountancy Ireland magazine, Tom O’Higgins, who chaired a number of high-profile government audit committees, said there was genuine public anger over the expenses controversies.
O’Higgins wrote: “There is widespread anger about the abuses of expenses by management and board members in some state bodies and government departments — in- cluding those of ministers.
“The problem is that the so-called entitlements culture is deeply embedded throughout the Irish public sector. This cannot be permitted to continue.
“Who will have the courage to say stop and instigate a root-and-branch reform to the expenses regimes from county councils, state bodies, prison-visiting committees and the Oireachtas?
There must be far greater transparency and vigilance by management and greater scrutiny by audit committees of expense claims in all Âbodies.”
O’Higgins resigned as chairman of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Audit Committee last year.
The committee was the financial watchdog for the Oireachtas Commission, which at the time was chaired by ceann comhairle John O’Donoghue.
O’Higgins was concerned that reform of political expenses was not moving quickly enough and that unvouched expenses would not be abolished.
His fears proved well-founded and a recent reform of the expenses system annÂounced by finance minister Brian Lenihan has left aspects of the old system in place.
O’Higgins said that if advice from an audit committee is not welcome, then the chairman should resign. He wrote: “If there is not a supportive and positive attitude to the audit committee from the top, the committÂee chairman should resign.
“He should never forget that he has a responsibility to be independent. He must have courage and integrity to accept that, at times, taking an independent stance may incur the wrath of executives and directors or even secretaries general.”
Read the O’Higgins article here in Accountancy Ireland.
It is on page 18 to 21 and should be required reading for Ireland’s political elite, the bankers and those who “serve” in semi-states and quangos.
Also, in a shameless plug for my new book Revenge, here’s an edited extract of one of the chapters, as appeared in the Sunday Tribune a fortnight ago.