Belfast Telegraph

Auditors raise fears over accounts

Almost £200 million of public money was not spent in the way the Assembly intended this year, the Audit Office has found.

Multiple accounting weaknesses within Government departments saw tenders awarded without proper approval and caused the EU to refuse paying out millions to the region, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill.

If tighter processes were in place, substantial savings to the public purse could have been made, the auditors indicated.

Their examination of the accounts of 17 departments and associated public bodies identified significant issues of concern in seven.

Many of the matters raised in the Audit Office's end-of-calendar-year report have already been flagged up by specific investigations.

These include corporate governance failings at Northern Ireland Water which led to four directors being sacked and the multimillion-pound bill facing the Department of Agriculture due to incorrect allocation of EU grant aid as a result of farmers' land not being properly mapped.

But the compendium of all the accounts - issued for the first time before the end of the financial year - demonstrates the scale of problems across government.

Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly noted that the overall standard of financial reporting remained high, but he expressed concern that a "larger number of accounts than usual" were found to have issues of concern (auditors describe these as qualifications).

"All qualifications are indicative of weaknesses in internal control and compromise the entity's ability to provide sound accountability to the Northern Ireland Assembly," he said.

"Generally there is no consistent pattern to the type of qualifications arising. However in this accounting period several of the qualifications were as a result of irregular expenditure due to lack of proper business case approvals for consultancy costs to support large scale projects."

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