Editor's Viewpoint: An inexcusable tale of waste and failure
The verdict of the Public Accounts Committee at Stormont into a failed innovation project, the Bioscience and Technology Institute, funded by taxpayers' money couldn't really be more damning.
One of the starkest examples of incompetence and mismanagement that the committee has ever examined, was how the PAC described the fiasco which wasted £2.2m of public funds, £1m from a generous philanthropist and £400,00 to the Revenue and Customs. And this was supposed to be a project which would be a ground-breaking centre of excellence for the bio-tech industry here.
There was failure at virtually every level. The business plan for the project was not sufficiently scrutinised, funding was approved with poor analysis, the project was housed in the wrong location, there was insufficient monitoring of how money was being spent and there are strong suspicions of fraud. If this is how public money is spent, and wasted, the public has every right to be furious.
And yet, hardly anyone has been brought to account for the debacle. Two Invest NI officials were disciplined, two more were cleared of wrongdoing, but those officials deemed most culpable for the shortcomings in the project, fortunately for them, had retired before any disciplinary action could be taken against them.
Yet there are other central figures who could, and should, be brought before some formal forum to answer for what went wrong with the project. BTI director Teresa Townsley and her husband and business partner Michael, have serious questions to answer over the purchase of BTI's headquarters in east Belfast, expenditure claimed for during the operation of BTI and potential conflict interests. Mrs Townsley has already been criticised by the Westminster Public Accounts Committee for her role within the Emerging Business Trust, another organisation in receipt of public funding.
At a time when public funding is increasingly under pressure it is imperative every penny is spent wisely. This case provides a blueprint on how not to do it. And in spite of all the evidence, virtually no action has been taken against those guilty of wasting scarce resources. That is simply inexcusable.