MIONTUAIRISC NA FIANAISE
(Minutes of Evidence)
Déardaoin 30 Samhain 1967
Thursday 30th November 1967
The Committee met at 11 a.m.
Mr. E. F. Suttle (An tArd-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste) called and examined.
Mr. T. K. Whitaker called and examined.
5. Chairman.—Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General read:
1. As may be observed from my previous reports I have, with the encouragement and support of the Committee of Public Accounts, extended the scope of my audit from an examination of regularity into the field of administrative efficiency. This is in line with modern State audit as developed and practised in other countries. With the exception which I mention in the following paragraph, I have received the co-operation of Departments and State-sponsored agencies.
2. In the course of audit of votes accounted for by the Office of the Minister for Justice I asked the Accounting Officer for certain files which in my judgment were necessary for the completion of the audit. These, from evidence before me, appeared to relate to travelling expenses, the supply of medicines to Gardaí and an Organisation and Methods report on the payment of witnesses’ expenses in certain Court cases. The Accounting Officer suggested that my request be withdrawn because he saw objection, in principle, to making available any papers which might contain administrative directions or arguments of a policy character and matters of that kind. I have rejected that suggestion because it is quite plain that if Departments were allowed to withhold or delay information, on grounds of policy or interest, the whole purpose of State audit would be defeated.”
6. Deputy Crowley.—What are your comments on paragraphs 1 and 2, Mr. Whitaker?
Mr. Whitaker.—I was wondering if the Comptroller and Auditor General had anything further to add?
Mr. Suttle.—Accounting officers are personally responsible for the expenditure of money voted by Parliament to carry on departmental services, and my function as Auditor General is to ensure that the moneys voted are expended in accordance with the decisions of the Dáil in voting the moneys. Normally I do not question policy matters but I do investigate the implementation of policy and the administrative decisions taken in connection with them. It has been the traditional function of the Comptroller and Auditor General to investigate waste or extravagance and lately I have expanded on the interpretation of the word “waste” to include administrative inefficiency, and that would likely explain what I am talking about in the first paragraph. Normally, we do not look for papers unless they are relevant to the accounts, and when I was refused these papers I just could not comply with my duties to analyse the accounts. My certificate states—this is not a statutory form of certificate but it has been the accepted form for generations—that I have obtained all the information and explanations I have required. In this particular case, I have not all the information and explanations I require and so, under the Constitution, I must report to the Dáil that that is the position.
7. Mr. Whitaker.—I hope it will be satisfactory to the Committee if I make a few general observations now and if any further presentation of the views of the Department of Finance could take place after the Accounting Officer in question has been examined by the Committee. As far as general observations are concerned, I would like to say that the clarification which the Comptroller and Auditor General has just provided is very welcome and very helpful. In the first place, he has confirmed that he is not concerned with policy or how policy is arrived at. This has been the traditional position. In the second place, he has clarified the reference in paragraph 1 which is before us. There was possibly room for misinterpretation of his remarks about extending the scope of his audit into the field of administrative efficiency. These might have given the impression that this was something entirely new, whereas he has made it quite clear that what is involved in fact is giving a greater emphasis to something that has been traditional. We always in the Department of Finance supported his investigation, not just of regularity, but also of economy in the carrying out of policy decisions. We are concerned as the Finance Department with helping him in investigations designed to ensure that there is no failure to get value for money, that there is no inefficiency or waste or inadequate financial control. I would like to emphasise that this is a function of the Comptroller and Auditor General which goes back many, many years. There is nothing essentially new about it. I think that what is new, as probably the Comptroller and Auditor General will confirm, is that this has got an increasing emphasis in recent years. That is all I would like to say for the moment.
8. Deputy Andrews.—Effectively you are agreeing with what the Comptroller and Auditor General said—is that right?
Mr. Whitaker.—I just rest on what I have said, please. I want to make it clear that I do not want to get involved in the merits or demerits of the particular case until the Accounting Officer in question has been heard by the Committee.
9. Chairman.—I take it you are accepting paragraph 1 and holding off for the moment any special opinion on paragraph 2?
Mr. Whitaker.—As interpreted and clarified this morning.
10. Deputy Crowley.—In other words, it is proper that the Accounting Officer of the Department of Justice should come before the Committee and explain why he has refused to show certain papers to the Comptroller and Auditor General?
Mr. Whitaker.—It is a long-established position that if an Accounting Officer, arguing reasons of policy and not wanting to disclose policy matters, does not respond to a request by the Comptroller and Auditor General for the papers, then the Comptroller and Auditor General reports that matter to this Committee, and this Committee hears any reasons the Accounting Officer may have to offer to justify his refusal to provide the documents.
The witness withdrew.
The Committee adjourned.