We’ve been here before. Remember FAS and the trips to Florida? Remember the FAI and the birthday party and the board flying business class with the players in economy? There is one thing that unites all these shenanigans, and it is that it is A) people casually spending
taxpayers money, and B) assuming no one will ever see the details.
We know it’s going on now in some taxpayer funded agency or NGO that isn’t on the radar, and we all know we’ll be back here again in the future unless we confront the fact that it is not bad personalities that make this happen, but a culture of imperviousness, and the idea that no one will ever be held personally accountable. Look at the faces of some of those RTE staff in front of the Oireachtas committee: it’s a look of disbelief that they have to explain this stuff in broad daylight to ordinary people on ordinary wages. And I don’t mean that in a bad way: I’m not saying they are bad or arrogant people. I’m saying it is the culture in the tax-funded sector, what seems attractive and normal behind closed doors suddenly looks awful, even to them, in the glare of daylight.
What to do? Stop being obsessed with the personalities, and focus on systems.
For a start, every future invoice paid by a taxpayer funded organisation should be posted to a central publicly viewable website with the signature of the individual who authorised it. I suspect the cursor may yet waiver over a purchase order for €5000 in flipflops when you know it automatically will appear in front of the online voluntary PAC hordes, with your name attached. Hundreds of taxpayers will go through the invoices everyday looking for waste. And no, don’t give me GDPR or “commercial confidentiality”. We can legislate on them, and any way, no one is forced is do business with the taxpayer if they do not wish.
Secondly, it’s time to get a Comptroller & Auditor General who is asking these questions, and doing so publicly as they used to in the past. It is literally a constitutional office tasked with ensuring the sensible spending of public money. Would it really be that outrageous if the C&AG had asked RTE to prove that RTE on-air talent was in danger of being poached? By whom? The C&AG should be the new Dr John Harbison or Marie Cassidy: they should be a household name.
Perhaps it should even be a directly elected office…