A new Private Members’ Bill aimed to make local authorities accountable to the Comptroller and Auditor General and, by extension, put them under the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts, was presented in the Dáil by Carlow/Kilkenny Fianna Fáil deputy, John McGuinness.
The reason this was necessary, he said, was because every year local authorities received substantial funding from the Exchequer, the spending of which cannot be followed by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Mr McGuinness is himself a former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
“I was a member of two local authorities over a 25 year period. During that time I saw little or no scrutiny of how taxpayers’ money was spent,” he said.
“The latest figures are available in the annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which was published last September, remind us that we are dealing with the expenditure of an enormous amount of public money and cause me to wonder why the Comptroller and Auditor General has not always been involved,” he said. “The figures clearly demonstrate why the Comptroller and Auditor General should be allowed to audit local government. The amount of money provided in 2007 was €5.5 billion, in 2008 it was €5.7 billion, in 2009 it was €5.25 billion and in 2010 it was €4.45 billion.”
He said he was aware that many individual members of all political parties and none supported what this Bill is seeking to achieve.
“This is exactly the sort of Bill that should be put to a free vote because it demonstrates our determination to control and hold accountable those who spend and collect public money,” he said. “This is an accountability which members of the public often presume we can enforce but little do they know. One cannot have good governance without accountability and transparency.”
However, Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan said that, having considered the various provisions and their impact on the process of external audit of public expenditure, unfortunately, the Government would not support the Bill.
“The Bill would create an additional layer of audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General, duplicating the work of the local government audit service,” she said.
The Bill was defeated by 92 votes to 36.