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Kildare/Wicklow Education and Training Board boss 'co-operating' with gardaí after Naas office raid

The raid followed on from the publication of the C&AG audit of the financial statements of the organisation.

The chief executive of the training board will tell the PAC today that it fully accepts the findings in the C&AG report.
The chief executive of the training board will tell the PAC today that it fully accepts the findings in the C&AG report.

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of the Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB) will tell an Oireachtas committee today that the organisation is “co-operating in full” with gardaí following a raid of its offices last week. 

Last week, TheJournal.ie exclusively reported that the offices of KWETB in Naas were raided by officers from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.

The raid followed on from the publication of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s audit of the financial statements of the organisation for the year-end 2015.

Audit report 

The audit published by the State’s spending watchdog last week “identified concerns about procurement, project cost overruns and propriety matters”. 

It also found “expenditure by KWETB in 2015 at a five-star hotel and golf resort appears excessive, with no evidence of any attempts to achieve value for money for the service procured”.

The review also found there were weaknesses in KWETB’s procurement processes, where contracts were awarded to a firm with connections to the (then) chief executive. These connections were not disclosed, according to the C&AG.

KWETB also rented an industrial property in 2015 which was subsequently partially licensed to the same firm connected to the then chief executive.

“There was inadequate documentation of the on-licensing arrangements — rent and service costs were only paid to KWETB after concerns were raised by the audit,” said the C&AG.

KWETB also disposed of a van in January 2017, but received no payment until after audit queries were raised. In addition, a full year’s motor tax was paid by KWETB just before the disposal occurred.

The audit also found that poor contract management practice contributed to additional costs of €483,000 regarding the construction of Arklow Community College.

Garda investigation

Dr Deirdre Keyes, the new chief executive, will tell the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee today that the KWETB is working with the gardaí to ensure that the investigation can reach its conclusion in an efficient and timely manner.

“Considerable resources and time have had to be diverted to this investigation. Despite this, our core work has continued and I am indebted to our teachers, tutors, leaders and support staff who are committed to the service of teaching and learning in our ETB,” she said.

She will tell committee members today that she fully accepts the findings of the C&AG report, and the very “serious lapses and gaps” in its “regulatory, financial and propriety responsibilities” identified in the recent audit.

“Whilst the reports do reference that there were arrangements and documented procedures to manage procurement and conflicts of interest in place, their findings highlight serious concerns and shortcomings on an operative basis in the implementation of procurement and other processes during the period of the investigation. We accept these findings,” she states in her opening statement to the committee. 

Appearing before the all-party group as the accounting officer of KWETB, Keyes will tell politicians that while it is her intention to fully engage with the committee, she may be blocked from speaking about certain matters due to a criminal investigation being underway.

‘Serious findings’

“Whilst acknowledging and accepting the seriousness of the findings of both reports, I hope that I can provide assurances to the committee that KWETB has set about to build a robust culture of corporate governance, building on the policies and controls that had previously been in place but strengthening them in areas of oversight and internal control in, but not limited to, the key areas as identified in both reports,” Keyes will state.

Describing recent times as a “very difficult period for KWETB”, she will tell the committee that it is important to assure them that the board and executive “have worked hard to ensure that we continue to deliver on our legislative responsibilities”.

“We achieve this by delivering a quality service for all our learners; this at all times remains at the core of what we do. All of our actions under our Corporate Governance Programme are to ensure the best quality of experience for our learners, proper learning environments, physical spaces, adequate resources, both financial and human and ultimately value for money for the exchequer. We are fully committed to this and are fully mindful of the governance responsibilities that go with that,” adds Keyes.

‘Very serious concerns’

Seán Ó Foghlú, secretary general of the Department of Education and Skills will also tell the committee today that the issues which have arisen in KWETB are “of very serious concern to the department”.

The responses which the department received at the time of its initial engagement with KWETB in 2017 pointed to ineffective governance and accountability in the ETB particularly in relation to the use of public resources, he will tell members.

For that reason, the minister appointed an independent investigator, which Ó Foghlú will state “signalled that this was something we considered warranted a serious response from the department”. In his opening statement, he will say that legislation which created the ETBs allowed the minister to “take appropriate steps to rectify any issues of concern which may have been found”.

He adds that KWETB has actively engaged with the department and are adopting a proactive approach to improving governance arrangements. 

Ó Foghlú will also say that a revised Code of Governance for ETBs was issued to the sector in January 2019, adding that another important change in how ETBs prepare financial statements has been undertaken. 

They are now on a calendar-year basis and use a common and agreed template to ensure consistency of reporting and layout. The PAC has continuously criticised the late filing of accounts by ETBs. 

The secretary general said the department acknowledges that while there have been delays in ETBs submitting their financial statements to the C&AG, significant progress has been made in more recent years. He will also tell members that a new National Procurement Policy for ETBs has also been put in place in 2018. 

He will tell the committee today that change is ongoing but it will take a number of years to embed.

Comments have been closed due to ongoing legal proceedings.

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