Wasteful practices in Department and State Agencies must be stopped!

Euro_banknotesSpeaking during Statements on the National Economy in the Seanad, Senator O’ Reilly condemned the Government’s abysmal record on banking and called an audit of every State and Department and Local agency.

Statements on The National Economy,

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey. I was slightly amused when listening to Senator Butler, for whom I have much personal regard, to hear him talk about the need for national consensus, to agree future budgets and so on. The thought occurred to me that during the supposed boom — what essentially proved to be an illusion — there were not many on the benches opposite who wanted to attribute it to us. I do not recall Senator Butler, a rational man, making many such speeches at the time.

That said, Fine Gael, based on the briefings we received at the time, not all of which were accurate in terms of the figures provided, supported the guarantee scheme proposed by the Government two years ago. Any time, notably in regard to Northern Ireland but other issues also, when the national interest is at the heart of an issue, we support the Government. However, we also have a duty to provide opposition in Parliament, which includes being adversarial. The people need to know that there are those who are questioning the Government and that an alternative point of view is being expressed. If we were to arrive at a cosy consensus in Leinster House, it could possibly lead to others coming out on the streets. It is, therefore, a vexed question. Nonetheless, when the future of the nation and its people is at stake, the record of Fine Gael is impeccable and will be in the future.
It merits repeating by an Opposition spokesperson in this debate that the Government record on the economy is abysmal. It is abysmal because 13.8% of the workforce are unemployed. Some 466,923 people are without work, while 100,000 have left these shores, a shocking indictment of the Government. It is abysmal because all empirical studies and objective commentators have found the Government to be wrong. It was wrong in its approach to Anglo Irish Bank, while we were right. Billions have been buried in it. In recent weeks, the Government has had to adopt our strategy towards that bank.

The Government has an abysmal record on banking, jobs and the economy in general. While we all have immense personal admiration for the courage of the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in terms of his health and for his patriotism, which is not at issue and is not questioned by anyone right or decent, his stewardship as Minister for Finance must come up for critical question when these considerations are taken into focus. He would not want the Opposition to take a patronising approach and suggest the contrary. He is well fit for the cut and thrust of debate and we cannot go on with a nonsense that does not say he accepts responsibility for what is wrong in terms of unemployment, how we got the banking crisis abysmally wrong and how we did not get the right information. Irrespective of whether the banks deceived us, we have a duty not to be deceived. These questions cannot be avoided.
Our GNP has declined by 29% and our borrowing rates have gone out of kilter, so the story is all bad. It is the duty of the opposition in an adversarial parliament to address these questions. Let no one have any doubt. When the national interest is at stake and agreement is needed in emergency situations, our record stands up beyond yea or nay and will continue to do so, but we have our other duty.

We must turn to the future. People are angry and want their anger to be echoed in these Chambers, but they also want a positive response and to know we will proceed constructively. With the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach, who is extraordinarily fair and facilitative in the Chamber, I tried to get a point across on the Order of Business within the two minutes allowed me under Standing Orders. My proposal is a positive one and I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, to convey it to the Government. There must be an audit in every Department and State agency to identify areas of waste without prejudicing front-line services. If we consider our home areas, we can all identify areas of waste. For example, there has been much waste in the procurement area whereby we sold off State buildings in local towns and rented buildings at exorbitant prices. There have also been dramatic cases like that of PPARS.

There are many areas of waste within Departments, State agencies and local agencies. Were one to eliminate the waste without prejudicing the welfare of the disabled, and it does not follow that services need to be reduced in these instances, we would go a long way towards solving our problems. The potential is significant. Consider the anecdotal evidence at local level we each have. I could write out 20 examples on a page of foolscap and provide it to any officer of the State, but I will not cite them in the Chamber. Any Member of Parliament or member of a local authority could do likewise.

The information should be audited properly, collated and acted upon. The audit of waste must go down to the minutiae. If one is in financial trouble, and God knows we have all had and will have our adverse financial days and may have permanently, the first thing a bank manager will do is go through one’s personal expenditure, identify areas of waste and adjust accordingly. The same principle must apply to the State. The considerable potential for trimming is not being exploited. I am offering this suggestion. I have often worked with the Minister of State on Adjournment motions and I know he will take it on board because it is a serious point. I am not making this suggestion flippantly. Rather I am sincere when I say there is a potential for significant savings to the State by avoiding wanton waste. The list of dramatic cases can be chronicled — PPARS, FÁS, etc. — but there is also micro waste. Were it audited at the level of Departments and quangos, there would be considerable potential for saving.

We in this Chamber must bite another bullet. Senator Butler raised the issue of consensus, but this issue will challenge that consensus. If sharing it hurts us, so be it, although it will not necessarily impact on us greatly. There must be a consensus on the capping of public sector, RTE and banking salaries. We cannot ask the ordinary members of this great republic, be they from Banagher, Bailieborough or Kiltimagh, who will experience income reductions in the forthcoming budget to accept cuts of €3 billion, which is the national consensus, if they do not see salaries at the top being capped and bonuses being eliminated. Why should people get bonuses for doing their jobs? People must see a curbing of wasteful expenditure at that level. It must be shown transparently and dramatically before we can ask people to follow. Otherwise, one could not logically do it. This would be my proposal were my party in government tomorrow and my party leader sent a memo asking me what my first action would be.

I am not able to go into the mechanics of the implementation, as there are issues involved, but it should be our objective to cap salaries and eliminate waste, bonuses and frills. People at the top of society must be seen to absorb pain. Not only should there be more sackings in the banking sector, incomes should be capped. It would be unreasonable to ask the taxpayer to capitalise the banks if their senior executives who supervised the folly — “folly” is a good word — are getting gigantic salaries and bonuses. This issue must be addressed in the public interest.

My two proposals are positive, practical steps. I accept Senator Butler’s challenge to the Opposition to approach the issue with positivity instead of laying blame where it rightly belongs. We have a responsibility to propose positively and mine is a positive proposal. Were these steps seen to be taken, people could reasonably have confidence in the political process.

I have discussed another matter informally with my colleague, Senator Cannon, among others. As we all did, I spent a great deal of time at home in my constituency this summer meeting people on streets, at functions and so on. They were palpably angry, not only about the folly, but also about the lack of a coherent response that involves the top people as much as it does them. This is not just popular rhetoric; people on the ground need this level of response. The Government stands indicted for not having addressed the issue, but I challenge it to do so now.

It also stands indicted in terms of the shocking level of unemployment. To create jobs, our NewERA policy document made positive proposals on employers’ PRSI, State pension funds, the National Pensions Reserve Fund, NPRF, which should be used positively and not for current expenditure, and selling State assets without imperilling the nation. Our proposals have not been taken on board. It is time for action. The people will not tolerate the situation much longer. They need to see a response and practical proposals.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website