Thursday, 7 February 2019

Questions (10)

Jonathan O'Brien


10. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the role of the Office of Government Procurement and the chief procurement officer in his Department in the delivery of the national children’s hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5954/19]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Public)

The chief procurement officer was appointed in a personal capacity to the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, NPHDB, in 2013 for a five-year term by the then Minister for Health. He was reappointed in 2018 by the current Minister for Health. He is a member of several of the board’s committees.

The members of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, in line with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies and the board’s code of governance, have a fiduciary duty to the board in the first instance, a responsibility to act collectively in decision-making and communication, and an obligation to observe its confidentiality arrangements. The Department of Health, as the accountable Department for the children’s hospital project, established the reporting and governance arrangements for the project through which the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board provided regular updates to it on the project.

On the role of the Office of Government Procurement, responsibility for construction procurement policy and the associated capital works management framework lies with that office. Government policy requires the use of the capital works management framework on all projects delivered under the Exchequer-funded element of the public capital programme.

The public works contract is a key component of the capital works management framework and is a lump sum fixed-price contract that is to be used on all public works projects. It is possible for public bodies to seek a derogation from the use of the standard forms of contract. The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board commenced its formal engagement with the Government contracts committee for construction with a view to securing that derogation.

It is important to note that a derogation does not sanction the approach or strategy of the contracting authority, but simply acknowledges that the circumstances are such as to warrant a different approach than the standard. It is a matter for the contracting authority and the sanctioning authority to satisfy themselves as to the adequacy of the approach in terms of compliance with procurement rules and project appraisal in accordance with the public spending code.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am sure he is aware that there has been much discussion of the role of the procurement officer in question and whether he should have brought information on the cost overruns to the Minister. While I accept that a relevant code of practice is in place, one that clearly outlines that it is the chairman of a board who brings information to the relevant Minister, I am sure that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is aware of the circular setting out the procedure that a civil servant should follow if he or she believes there are issues of public concern. Has the Minister held discussions with the officer since the controversy about the cost overruns broke?

Does Deputy Cowen wish to ask a supplementary question?

Yes. When the Taoiseach was asked about this earlier in the week, he said that the duty was, as the Minister said, to the board and that it was the duty of the chair of the board to report to the line Minister. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, did not mention that. Rather, he said that it was the duty of the board to report to the Department of Health. Is it also the duty of the chair to report to the line Minister? If the chair was not regularly reporting to the line Minister, is it not the fault of the line Minister not to have sought that information, given that, according to information now in the public domain, he was not aware of progress on this matter for up to a year?

Regarding the first question, I met the official to whom the Deputy referred. I am absolutely satisfied that he met all of the responsibilities that he had as a member of the board. I have worked with him since becoming Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and have seen at all times his professionalism and expertise in discharging his responsibilities.

Regarding Deputy Cowen's question, the circular is very clear. It says that if the person who is on the board does not feel that his or her concerns about an issue are being relayed by the chair of the board to the Department, that person has a duty to raise issues with the line Minister himself or herself. It was the view of Mr. Quinn that this matter was being dealt with by the board. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has outlined how the information was made available to his Department and then to him.

I want to be sure I understand this. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is saying that Mr. Quinn was happy with the reporting structure that was in place and that information on the cost overruns was being passed to the line Minister in question. We can only presume he was happy because he did not do any of the actions outlined in the circular.

Will the Minister confirm when he met Mr. Quinn and whether they discussed the cost overruns at the children's hospital? Did the Minister ask Mr. Quinn whether he had raised any concern with the chairperson with a view to that information being passed on? Was Mr. Quinn of the understanding that such information was being relayed to the line Minister in a timely fashion?

I met him on Tuesday. He was satisfied that the issue was being dealt with appropriately in the board. I am absolutely satisfied from my engagement with him that he was handling his responsibilities appropriately. He was satisfied that the information was being shared with the Department of Health. I am satisfied that that happened too.