WIT admits paying for more secret flights
on 05/10/2012 00:00:00
During last week's Dáil Public Accounts Committee meeting into excessive spending at WIT, the college conceded it set up the initial flight for external expert Dr Jim Port in Mar 2007.
At the time, Dr Port was examining the college's upgrade bid for the Department of Education.
However, after further queries were raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General's office this week, yesterday's PAC meeting heard a further two private jet flights were also organised for the same person.
These involved a €4,200 return journey from his home in Fulton in Britain to Dublin in Jun 2007 to bring him to a meeting with then taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who wanted an update on the college's situation.
The costs, organised by WIT without the department's knowledge, were accrued despite Fulton being just 17km from Bristol airport, which has daily commercial flights to Ireland.
They cost the taxpayer a total of €4,969.56 - not the €4,200 claimed by WIT last week.
In addition, the PAC was told by department secretary general, Sean Ó Foghlú, two other people are likely to have travelled on the Waterford-to-Dublin private jet charter. Invoices obt-ained by the C&AG also show this trip was paid for by planning firm Fewer, Harrington and Partners, which then recouped its costs from WIT.
The three flights were signed off by the college's ex-president Kieran Byrne and former board chair, Redmond O'Donoghue.
Mr Byrne's appointment to a second 10-year term was rejected by the board's new chair last year after revelations of his €3.7m expenses splurge since 2004.
After the first flight emerged last week, Mr O'Donoghue said he was "comfortable authorising and indeed organising" the journey.
Responding to angry queries from PAC members over the body's failure to uncover the expense until now, Higher Education Authority chief executive, Tom Boland, insisted current transparency and auditing measures were robust.
He said it was not reasonable to expect the HEA to examine every financial details in third-level institutes.
However, after admitting two auditing reports from Deloitte, costing almost €90,000, failed to reveal that three and not one flights took place, he and the State body were heavily criticised by PAC chairman, John McGuinness.
"You failed over a 10-year period to instil a culture of transparency. What I expect is that you take your oversight role seriously, but they [WIT] completed ignored any effort if it was made."
The committee has confirmed it is now planning to bring WIT officials back for a further meeting in light of the latest revelations.