1. Under this Vote the Comptroller and Auditor-General reports on certain difficulties which he has experienced in checking details arising in the case of 19 cars transferred from the Army to the Gárda Síochána.
The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s note referred to cars that were only under the control of the Department for the last four days of the financial year that is being dealt with by the Committee. From the evidence it appeared that these cars were allocated to special duties in relation to Ministers and their families. In such case its provision—both for the cars and for their running expenses—should have been made by means of specific Dáil authority.
2. A contribution to the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society is made in this Vote by means of a grant-in-aid. A sub-head consisting of a grant-in-aid is distinguishable from other sub-heads or Votes mainly in the fact that unexpended balances are not surrendered to the Exchequer. This and other special features have established the principle that virement cannot apply as between a sub-head consisting of a grant-in-aid and the rest of the Vote, that is to say that the Department of Finance is not entitled to sanction the payment of any deficiency arising on such a grant-in-aid by the application of savings effected on the other sub-heads of the Vote. Application can only be made to the Dáil for a further grant, on the same conditions, to meet such deficiency. In the present case sums amounting to £186 more than provided for by this grant-in-aid were paid out of savings on the remainder of the Vote. The Department of Finance is in agreement that the procedure adopted was incorrect. The Committee recommends that a supplementary estimate be brought in to cover the amount in question.
3. In paragraph 8 of its Report dated 13th December, 1934, the Committee referred to the case of a teacher who had been convicted by the Military Tribunal established under Article 2a of the Constitution. The teacher in question was reinstated and paid out of public funds although neither was the conviction annulled nor was a free pardon granted. The Committee expressed the opinion that, as the said Article of the Constitution continued the disqualification until one or other of these alternatives happened, all payments made to this teacher were illegal, and invited the Department of Finance to express its view. The Minister has replied to the effect that a free pardon was granted by the Executive Council by Order dated 11th December, 1934, and that the legal question raised has been submitted to the law officers, who have advised that payments made from the date of reinstatement to the date of the Order referred to are illegal. It is further stated that legislation intended to validate these payments is being promoted.
Public Works and Buildings.
4. The Committee examined a case in which a project to erect a new training college at Galway was proceeded with, and then abandoned for one to erect on the same site a preparatory college. This alteration involved the preparation of new plans and bills of quantities, and certain materials purchased in connection with the proposed training college proved to be superfluous. It is estimated that nugatory payments totalling £3,100 occurred under these heads. Another work mentioned in this account concerns repairs to a proposed preparatory college in County Galway. Expenses totalling £1,200 were incurred in the adaptation and equipment of the building on the expectation that the ownership could be acquired. Title, however, could not be made and the premises had to be surrendered. The unnecessary payments in this case approximate to £1,500. The change of plan in the first case mentioned was made by the Department of Education. The Office of Public Works had control of the second case. The Committee realises that unforeseen circumstances may occasionally arise which necessitate alteration in plans and schemes, but it hopes that all possible steps will be taken to avoid nugatory expenditure of this nature in the future. The importance of avoiding expenditure of public money on purchased property before title is proved, unless under an indemnity agreement, should be borne in mind.
5. Contrary to the provisions contained in paragraph 22 of Order No. 7, three days’ pay in advance was issued to the Forces on the 23rd December, 1933. It appears that the Department of Finance had refused to approve of the issue of two weeks’ pay in advance; that the issue of the three days’ pay in advance was made without further reference to that Department; that the Accounting Officer stated his objections to the Minister for his Department, and that his objections were overruled.
The Committee feels that any interference with the established procedure for dealing with financial matters is most undesirable.
6. On a previous occasion the attention of the Committee was drawn to the practice of sending privately-owned horses abroad to participate in international competitions, and when the matter was under discussion the Accounting Officer expressed his desire to have a satisfactory system of control instituted which would preclude this practice. The Comptroller and Auditor-General in his Report on the Accounts for the year under review has referred to further instances in which officers have taken privately-owned horses aboard. The Committee views with concern the recurrence of these irregularities, but in view of the assurance of the Accounting Officer that a regulation has been prepared which will prevent these irregularities in future, they wish to make no further comment beyond expressing the hope that this regulation will be put in force without delay.
7. The Committee experienced some difficulty in considering the case of an officer who, having married without obtaining permission, resigned some time afterwards and was paid arrears of allowances appropriate to a married officer, together with his gratuity. It appears that the regulations at present in force preclude payment of these allowances from a date prior to the Minister’s Order determining the officer to be a “married” officer, and that the definition of “married” officer incorporated in the regulations is inadequate. With this view the Committee is inclined to agree and they suggest that a more appropriate definition of married officer for the purpose of those allowances would have obviated some of the difficulties which were apparent in this case. Before offering any further comment they would like to have the views of the Minister for Finance on the matters raised.
8. The Comptroller and Auditor-General comments in the second portion of paragraph 71 of his Report on the fact that a number of married officers’ quarters remained vacant over long periods though officers to whom they could be allotted continued in receipt of loldging, fuel and light allowances. He pointed out that considerable expenditure had been incurred in renovating and furnishing those quarters, some of which were built only in recent years. It appears to the Committee that the relevant regulations clearly indicate that married officers entitled to quarters should be required to occupy them when available and that only when quarters are not available should payment be made of lodging, fuel and light allowance. The Accounting Officer stated that payment of allowance was continued to certain officers owing to a reluctance to compel them to occupy public quarters because they had entered into commitments regarding the tenure of their private houses. The Committee is strongly of opinion that quarters built, renovated and furnished at considerable expense to the public should not be allowed to remain idle in view of the very considerable charge to public funds involved in paying officers’ allowances in lieu. It notes, with satisfaction, that officers will in the future be required to occupy quarters when available.
9. During a period of annual training of a Reserve battalion, supplies which had been issued for the use of the men were fraudulently diverted to an officers’ mess. The Committee notes that the officer responsible was dismissed from the Reserve, and that the system of control is, in the opinion of the Accounting Officer, as effective as it could be made. The supplies in this case were purchased out of public funds for the definite purpose of providing for the needs of N.C.Os. and men in accordance with the scales laid down in regulations. In so far as the supplies were not used for the purpose for which they were purchased there was, in the opinion of the Committee, a loss to public funds, and they agree with the view of the Comptroller and Auditor-General that it is desirable that information regarding all cases of this kind should be appended to the Appropriation Account.
10. The attention of the Committee has again been drawn to the purchase of stocks in excess of military requirements and the purchase of certain items of plant which were apparently not used for the specific purpose for which they were purchased. The Committee accepts the assurance of the Accounting Officer that the plant has been advantageously used by the Army, and that it is essential for military requirements. Regarding the surplus stocks referred to by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the Committee was informed that steps have been taken by the Department to dispose of them, and they will await information as to the result of those efforts before making any further comment.
A further comment of the Comptroller and Auditor-General refers to the purchase of materials for the Signals Corps which, on the admission of the Accounting Officer, would not have been purchased had adequate consideration been given to the matter. The Committee feels compelled to record its disapproval of the expenditure of public funds in circumstances such as those stated without full consideration and without due regard to the interests of economy.
11. The safe custody of clothing and equipment issued for the use of members of the Volunteer Forces was the subject of discussion before the Committee. The Comptroller and Auditor-General points out that under the present .system there is no provision for periodical checks which might have the effect of reducing losses under this head. The Committee, while realising the difficulty of controlling and supervising stores which are scattered throughout the country, hopes that everything possible will be done to render control effective, whether by periodical checks or otherwise.
12. The point was raised by the Comptroller and Auditor-General as to whether applicants for pension under Section 13(1) of the Army Pensions Act, 1927, whose applications for pensions had already been refused on the ground that the degree of disablement was less than the minimum prescribed in the Act, could be re-examined with a view to the reassessment of the degree of disablement at any subsequent date. In a particular case referred to by the Comptroller and Auditor-General the applicant was examined by the Army Pensions Board on 3rd June, 1929. The Board was unable to recommend the award of a pension as it found that the degree of disablement from which the applicant suffered on the date of his examination was less than the minimum defined in the Act. In March, 1933, the application was again referred to the Army Pensions Board on appeal. The Board re-examined the applicant and reported that, in the light of the additional evidence furnished, it was satisfied that the degree of disablement was 80 per cent. on the 3rd June, 1929, the date on which the applicant was examined by its predecessor. It recommended the award of a pension as from that date.
The Committee notes that the opinion of the Attorney-General, to whom the matter was referred, while favourable to the Department, expressed the view that the question raised was one of considerable difficulty, and that if other cases involving the point arose he would be disposed to invite the opinion of the Court on the question. The Accounting officer stated that only one case of this particular type had been reviewed. In view of the doubt as to the powers with regard to reassessment conferred by the Army Pensions Acts, the Committee feels that, should further applications for re-examination in the circumstances referred to, arise, careful consideration should be given to the question of obtaining a ruling from the Court.
13. The attention of the Committee has been drawn to the administration of the Public Services (Temporary Economies) Act, 1933 (No. 37 of 1933), under the provisions of which salaries and other payments were subject to reduction at rates prescribed in the Act. The amount of such deductions was to be retained in the Exchequer, or, in cases where the payments were made from other than voted moneys, in the appropriate fund.
It appears that, as regards four Votes, the savings resulting from the application of the Act were withdrawn from the Exchequer in the first instance, though included in the surrender after the close of the year, while in two cases a portion of such savings was withdrawn.
In one Vote, however, namely, Law Charges (No. 26), the sums deducted in accordance with the Act amounted to £1,622 13s. 9d., while the surplus of the gross estimate over the expenditure was £722 3s. 10d. The Comptroller and Auditor-General expressed the opinion that, as the total amount of the deduction was due to be surrendered to the Exchequer, a Supplementary Vote should have been taken.
It is clear to the Committee that the intention of the Dáil as expressed in Section 7 (6) of the Act was that savings resulting from the application of the Act should not be made available for expenditure which would, were it not for the reductions made under the Act, have had to be provided for by means of a Supplementary Estimate. The Committee notes the explanation of the Accounting Officer for Vote 26 that the omission to provide the additional moneys required by way of Supplementary Estimate was due to an oversight.
The fact remains, however, that moneys have been spent contrary to the decision of the Dáil and the Committee has not option but to recommend that the covering sanction of the Oireachtas should now be obtained.
With regard to those cases in which the whole or a portion of the savings in question was withdrawn from the Exchequer, although subsequently surrendered, the Committee realises that technically there was a non-observance of the Act, but that, however, the intention of the Act whereby the Exchequer was to benefit was observed by the subsequent surrender of the surplus on each of the Votes in question.
(Signed), DESMOND FITZGERALD,
12th March, 1936.