That is absolutely what is needed and that is what the Government should stand over and that is what it should insist that EirGrid and that company absolutely deliver. For once, please listen to the public.
The other issue I wish to raise is the reference to reform in the Bill. All that is being done here is that instead of blowing away a few cobwebs from a system that was not perfect, the Minister has decided to huff and puff and blow the system down and take large chunks of democracy with it and ignore the public but he fails to take on the basic question of accountability and transparency that I have put to him and others in this House. Why is it that there are two separate audit systems in this country? Why is it that local government has an audit system, which is not fit for purpose in my opinion, and that the Comptroller and Auditor General has no authority to follow the money or how it is spent in regard to the projects that are delivered by local government with little or no accountability? When was the last time we heard a debate in this House on the spend in local government on foot of an audit from the auditors of local government? Never, I would suggest. Very few value for money reports and audits have been done and in terms of their exposure in the public arena and the questioning of country managers, it simply does not happen. The Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has suggested that there is room for greater transparency and a greater co-operation between the auditors and the Comptroller and Auditor General.
If we consider what happened in Poolbeg and the cost of rectifying the problems in dumps, it was the Comptroller and Auditor General who highlighted the very poor spend and the very poor value for money achieved, not the auditors, yet the Minister has chosen to ignore completely that aspect of local government. He has not addressed it in spite of the fact that reports have been given to the Department and others to support the notion that there be one all powerful Comptroller and Auditor General who would deal with every item of money spent by the Government that it collects in taxes. Millions of euro are being allocated to local government but that money is not properly audited in terms of the Comptroller and Auditor General because he is not allowed to do that.
I ask the Minister in the context of this Bill not to be afraid of the real reform that is needed and not to be afraid of the vested interests that are there and to bring about a situation where it can be accommodated in this Bill that the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts can oversee the spend of public money. There are existing projects on which up to €5 million of taxpayers' money has been spent, yet they are unfinished and there is no attempt by the Government to examine those projects and determine how best the taxpayers' money can be protected. It is easy to toss around the name of a mayor or a cathaoirleach, to burn our history and forget about it and our heritage and past, to walk away from communities and pretend that they are being represented. However, let us look at what is happening with the county manager. He or she will be given a fancy new title and a lot of power and the members will find it more difficult in this process being proposed by the Minister to get the voice of communities heard because it will be officialdom that will dictate the agenda of county councils throughout this country.
As for the commission and the approval given to it by the Minister to redraw the constituencies in the way that it did, it has cut towns and cities, cut up counties, and mixed urban with rural to an extent that I do not know how public representatives, when elected in these areas, will have the ability or the time to represent the huge geographical areas that they are being given. However, there is no cut down on the side of the officials. They are looked after and given fancy new titles.
There will be as many of them after this so-called reform as there was before it. The easy targets are the politicians and the people. The more difficult targets in terms of audit or administration, are the officials and they and their powers have not been tampered with at all.
I will deal briefly with valuation and rates. The new valuation being undertaken with the amalgamation of city and rural areas will mean that business rates - it may be some time after the enactment of the Bill and after a process - will increase dramatically. That is the evidence now being brought forward by the Valuation Office. A Bill to allow ratepayers to make a self-assessment revaluation needs to be brought in immediately and could be accommodated in this Bill. The one single expense which a company or a business cannot adjust is what they have to pay to the county councils for a service that is itself of questionable value. I question the system by which that rate is struck and by which the ratepayers are being forced to pay. Promises were made that the rates and the structure of rates would be looked at but that promise is being back-tracked, day in and day out, similar to the money that was to go from the property tax to the local government to ensure that the various projects and schemes could go ahead, which is another broken promise.
The Government cannot keep on doing this and changing the system, taking power or representation away from people, without there being consequences. The consequence in this case is that not only will it break down the familiar local government democratic structure but it will break the backs of communities and those who volunteer to keep their communities alive and well represented and in place. Yet there is no recognition of that in this Bill. All the people on the other side of the House have changed their opinion since opposition and they have moved down the road with the departmental officials to deliver a local government Bill that will be easier for them. They will no longer have the nuisance of a public representative hanging around them watching out for what is best for his or her local community. There will be less democracy. It seems to be the intent of this Government to remove democracy in every way, shape or form from the system, to remove the rights of people to be represented right down to parish level. That is a disgrace because along with taking it away, the Government is also disconnecting and burning the bridges between our history, our heritage and local government as we know it, with no regard for the representations being made by its own councillors and by single individual local authorities. It is steam-rolling the process through this House as it has done with many pieces of legislation.