MINUTE OF THE MINISTER FOR FINANCE ON REPORT DATED 26th FEBRUARY, 1953, OF THE COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS.
Paragraphs 1, 3, 6, 9, 10 and 18.
These paragraphs do not appear to require comment on the part of the Minister
PUBLIC WORKS AND BUILDINGS
Paragraph 2.—Dredging plant.
The Minister is informed that the discrepancy between the initial and final estimates of the cost of rendering the dredging plant fit for service included (a) a sum of £20,000 for the purchase of a new barge to replace two barges lost at sea (the loss of which could not, of course, have been foreseen) and (b) a sum of £53,000 being the difference between the then estimated cost (£65,000) of a new tug and that (£12,000) of the second-hand tugs originally contemplated.
In regard to the tugs, it is understood that inquiries from ship-broking firms and examination of catalogue descriptions, prior to the purchase of the plant, elicited that a number of apparently suitable second-hand craft were on the market and that the necessary purchase on favourable terms could reasonably be anticipated.
The total expenditure on acquiring the plant, including towage, dry-docking and watching charges, was £12,523 9s. 10d. The plant was disposed of in February, 1953, for £10,111.
SUPREME COURT AND HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
Paragraph 4.—Recoupment of Exchequer advance to make good certain deficiencies in estates of minors.
The supplementary estimate referred to has been presented to the Dáil and passed.
AVIATION AND METEOROLOGICAL SERVICES
Paragraph 5.—Subsidy in respect of Air Services.
The Minister notes the Committee’s further comments. As pointed out in paragraph 11 of his previous minute, the Minister was of opinion that virement was not out of accord with the understandings as to its use reached with the Committee of Public Accounts from time to time. The reference in the minute to “adequate savings” was not put forward as justification for the action taken but rather to complete the explanation of the circumstances.
CHANGES IN ESTIMATES
Paragraph 7.—Deletion from Estimate for Public Works and Buildings of details of New Works, Maintenance, etc.
The Committee’s suggestion that details of new works costing more than £4,000—with bulk provisions for groups of lesser items—be included in the Estimates volume has been examined but it appears that this modification would effect only a small saving in checking and printing as compared with reversion in full to the pre-1950/51 format. For example, if the suggestion were applied to the 1953/54 Estimate, it would be necessary to show separately over 100 items. Also, as compared with the pre-1950/51 format, it would involve introducing a new category, namely, works costing between £400 and £4,000 and this new category might introduce certain complications as, for example, where a marginal variation occurs between estimate and expenditure on a project around the £4,000 figure. Moreover, in the case of buildings, expenditure on which is shared between the Vote for Public Works and Buildings, the Vote for Posts and Telegraphs and the Telephone Capital Account, the charge on the Vote for Public Works and Buildings is frequently less than £4,000 although the total cost may be considerable.
Taking all these factors into account, the Minister prefers to retain the present format for Subhead B. He will, however, be prepared to arrange for submission to the Committee, before consideration of the relevant Appropriation Account, of details of new works costing more than £4,000 or, if the Committee prefers, a fuller statement on the lines of Appendix IV to the Committee’s Report.
The change made in 1950/51 was for the purpose of saving time in preparing checking and printing as, normally, very little time is available each year for completing the Estimates in volume form for presentation to the Dáil before the Vote on Account is taken. The Minister regrets that the need for consulting the Committee was not fully appreciated at the time.
SUPERANNUATION AND RETIRED ALLOWANCES
Paragraph 8.—Grant of compensation under Section 6 of the Superannuation Act, 1909, on removal from office.
The Committee’s inquiry as to what factors were present in this case which did not arise in the two cases previously commented on would appear to have been framed on an assumption that the statutory requirements could not be met by a change in personnel alone. The Committee’s previous approach was that such a change does not necessarily satisfy these requirements. The reference in the minute of 27th November, 1939, to the doubts raised emphasises the significance of the Committee’s own qualifying word “necessarily,” thus indicating that a change in personnel could be held to satisfy the requirements of the statute but that in such circumstances the question would need to be closely scrutinised. The Government’s decision to remove from office the person whose case is the subject of the present comment was stated to be for the purpose of facilitating improvements, within the meaning of Section 6 of the Superannuation Act, 1909, in the organisation of the Department concerned by which greater efficiency and economy could be effected. That decision, as expressed, must be interpreted as meaning that the Government had satisfied themselves that the statutory requirements for the grant of compensation had been fully met.
The practice of allowing a person who resumes pensionable employment to retain a lump sum granted to him under the Superannuation Acts is of long standing and is not repugnant to those Acts. Cases of the kind are infrequent and the Minister considers that any objections there may be to the practice are not sufficiently weighty to call for its alteration.
TRANSPORT AND MARINE SERVICES
Paragraph 11.—Payments in respect of Steamer Service.
The Minister agrees that it would have been preferable to have made these payments the subject of a note in the Appropriation Account and suitable attention is being drawn to the matter.
PUBLIC WORKS AND BUILDINGS
Paragraph 12.—Clondalkin workshop.
The Minister notes the views expressed by the Committee. On the question of the progress made with the provision of buildings between the acquisition of the site and the decision to abandon the work, possession of the Clondalkin site was taken in July, 1948. In December, 1948, sketch plans and estimates had been prepared for a scheme, intended to be carried out over a period of three and a half years, and contracts for the steel work for the first section of the scheme and for site development works were placed in July and September, 1949. Allowing for the extent and complexity of the scheme the Minister is satisfied that the progress made on the scheme as a whole was not unsatisfactory.
The Minister considers it unlikely that the expenditure on site development will prove to have been ineffective; most of the development is required for the present occupation by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the work generally should enhance the value of the site should it be decided eventually to dispose of the property. The final outcome of the transaction will depend upon such disposal but, so far, it may be taken that the direct loss is £8,894 16s. 9d., that is £8,974 16s. 9d. paid to the contractors, less £80 in respect of steel delivered and used for other purposes.
Paragraph 13.—Delay in reconstructing a national school.
The Minister is informed that the local contribution in this case amounted to £110 only and the lowest tender, which was for £1,683, provided for completion of the work by 26th August, 1950.
The delay in executing the work by the contractor whose tender was ultimately accepted was due to severe weather conditions and the fact that extra works were found necessary in the course of the contract.
Paragraph 14.—Stocktaking at workshop and stores.
The Commissioners of Public Works confirm that the importance of the periodical physical check as an essential feature of a system of stores control is fully appreciated. They further report that the complete stocktaking referred to by the Committee is being pressed forward.
Paragraph 15.—Grants to Health Authorities under the Health Services (Financial Provisions) Act, 1947.
The Minister is informed that the present position in relation to the determination of standard expenditure figures is that the Minister for Health has certified a figure in respect of each of twenty-five health authorities. The standard expenditure for each of the remaining six authorities has been calculated as accurately as possible and the Department of Health, from its experience to date, does not anticipate that the provisional figures used will require any significant amendment as a result of audit.
The issues of grant to a health authority within each financial year amount to 95% of the estimated total amount payable and, before the close of the ensuing financial year, a further payment is made to bring the issues to 99.5% of the total grant calculated from statements of actual (but unaudited) expenditure, the balance—0.5%—being retained pending audit. The amounts involved in the final adjustment of grant are thus relatively very small and the final adjustment is effected as soon as possible after receipt of audited statements and the clearance of any questions raised in the examination of the statements by the auditors or in the Department of Health.
Paragraph 16.—Fraudulent claims for travelling expenses.
While the Minister shares the concern of the Committee, he is of the opinion that there is a limit to the extent to which external safeguards can defeat a deliberate attempt to defraud the Exchequer; however carefully regulations are framed and however assiduously the supervising officer attempts to secure their observance, reliance must be placed on the integrity and sense of responsibility of the individual officer.
In the present instance, detection was rendered particularly difficult by the unusual nature of the fraud. The Minister is satisfied that every effort is being made by the Department of Lands to obviate the possibility of the recurrence of such a fraud in the future.
Paragraph 17.—Contributions towards Housing Loan Charges of Local Authorities.
The Minister agrees with the views of the Committee on the method of payment adopted in the case of the non-statutory contributions in question. The steps to be taken to regularise the position are at present the subject of correspondence between his Department and the Department of Local Government.