Other Questions. - Departmental Audits.

Michael Ring


8 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the activities of his Department's inspection and internal audit section. [15018/02]

An inspection unit was established in my Department in September 1992 in order to have in place a structure to examine the operation of overseas missions in a systematic way. The mandate of the unit was extended in 1994 to cover internal audit. The unit examines and evaluates the operation of missions abroad with a view to ensuring that the resources of the Department are deployed as effectively and productively as possible in line with overall departmental strategy. The unit also performs an independent audit function, which evaluates the efficiency and effectiveness of systems for the internal check and control of operations throughout the Department and makes recommendations for improvements.

From the time of the establishment of the unit in 1992 to date, 47 inspection visits have taken place to missions abroad. Each inspection entails a detailed examination of the allocation and use of the resources of the mission. The general administration, including the keeping of mission accounts and procedures for dealing with the consular work and passports, is also scrutinised. In advance of the visit, both the divisions at headquarters and the mission carry out a detailed survey of their relationship and interaction. Following inspections, the reports are discussed by the management advisory committee with the participation of the relevant head of mission and appropriate action is taken to implement recommendations.

The inspection unit also carried out in 2000 and 2001 a major audit of the overall tasks and resources of the Department. It made a number of significant recommendations, many of which it has been possible to implement. The development co-operation directorate has a separate evaluation and internal audit unit, dedicated to ensuring the quality and relevance of the development work of Ireland Aid and to auditing the accounts of all projects and programmes. It also commissions external evaluations and audit exercises as required. The findings and recommendations from these evaluations have been implemented throughout the Ireland Aid programme.

I hesitate to raise this delicate subject, but with regard to the multiplicity of Third World development agencies, to which the Minister referred, is he satisfied that everything possible is done to keep down the overheads of these sometimes competing organisations? Does his Department play a co-ordinating role or does it encourage co-ordination? What, if any, examination has been undertaken by his Department or this departmental unit into the effectiveness of what is a multiplicity of organisations in terms of dealing with the issues of the developing world, or does the competition between them assist with making people aware? I would like this issue to be addressed. While it does not necessarily have to be done in a public forum, it is an issue in which the Minister, or more particularly, the Minister of State with responsibility for that area, might take an interest.

I agree that this question could be better addressed by the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt. There is an increasing budget for overseas development aid. An external evaluation on Ireland Aid was carried out by the OECD and the report judged it to be an excellent programme. However, concerns were expressed about its capacity to evaluate, oversee, audit and ensure the sufficiency of personnel and information system resources available to guarantee that we were getting value for money and that everything we were hoping to do was being done on the ground.

In addition, the development and co-operation division, evaluation and audit unit, undertook a range of exercises last year. We have extra personnel in the area and are satisfied we are now building up the necessary expertise required, given that the resources of this area of the Department could quadruple in terms of volume between now and 2007. It is clear that we need an active and able programme in order to get the evaluation and audit in place. It has done a strategic and operational review of the Ireland Aid evaluation unit, the promotion of community managed urban services and an external review of the national committee for development education.

There has been a national review of block grant projects of Concern Worldwide, GOAL and Christian Aid Ireland in India and Bangladesh. There has been an evaluation of GOAL, Concern Worldwide, Trócaire and Self-Help Development International block grant projects in Kenya, Uganda and Malawi and a management system review of potential NGO block grant recipients. There has been a study to develop a formal risk management process in Ireland Aid and an external review of the development programme in Ethiopia; an evaluation of hotel and tourism training project in Zambia; the evaluation of Ireland Aid contributions to the UN Commission for Refugees and to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the participation in UNICEF review in Zimbabwe, to give a flavour of what has been achieved. The external annual audit programme includes the six priority country programmes plus South Africa. A systematic approach is being taken and, as has been said, if there are any specific areas of concern the Minister of State will only be too happy to give the detailed replies necessary.