Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Cowen 'not ignoring spending waste'

The Taoiseach has defended the handling of wasteful health spending by the HSE

The Government is not turning a blind eye to alleged wasteful spending in the health service, the Taoiseach has insisted.

Brian Cowen said no government or minister could condone a waste of state funds after a report detailed alleged misuse of public money by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

A training scheme for health workers is being investigated over claims of lavish spending and a slush fund being used to pay for parties, taxis and travel.

The controversy over the HSE training fund was sparked by an internal audit of the Skill project revealing over 2.5 million euro of a 60 million euro budget had been paid in to a bank account allegedly used by some officials at trade union Siptu.

It is understood auditors found inadequate documentation was submitted to back up claims worth 348,000 euro - which included a retirement party, over 12,500 euro on taxis, and charges for mobile phones, laptops, home broadband, gifts and gratuities.

In the Dail, Mr Cowen said the issue had been referred to the gardai, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Dail's public spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said there was a culture of "hear no waste, see no waste, speak no waste", and he accused the Government of turning a blind eye to back office bureaucracy in the HSE and to the money spent on taxis by the HSE in the past four years.

Mr Cowen said there was no question of anyone turning a blind eye.

Meanwhile, Siptu insisted it did not ask for or receive the money under investigation. The trade union said it did not authorise or approve an account the cash was paid into and said it only took control in recent weeks. It also said no annual reports were sent to Siptu and HSE chiefs did not query the account. "The union, therefore, has no liability in respect of the monies referred to," it said.

"However, conscious of our role as a civil society organisation, we are endeavouring to assist in clarifying all the matters at issue. Moreover, we have informed the HSE that, without prejudice, any payments in respect of reimbursement of expenses which cannot be properly vouched will be repaid."

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