"That the Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, dated 22nd November, 1928, which has been printed and circulated be now considered."
The Report of the Committee of Public Accounts for the year 1926-27 was ordered to be printed about twelve months ago, and since that it has been awaiting consideration by the Dáil. We have asked, like previous committees, for information from the Department of Finance with regard to the question of virement, and the Department of Finance satisfied our Committee that virement was advisable where an excess of a sub-head occurs in many cases. We recognised the difficulty, and that it was impossible to have the matter decided either by a fixed amount or by a percentage, and we agree with the Department of Finance that discretion should be left to that particular Department. As we point out here in this Report, however, we must disagree with the Ministry on one or two points.
For instance, the Department of Finance pointed out to us that on some occasions when another Department required more money than had been voted under a particular sub-head, it would not be feasible to go before the Dáil with a Supplementary Estimate, because there might be too much business before the Dáil. We held that that is a question for the Dáil itself, and not for the Department of Finance, to decide. As we state here the Dáil is quite competent to decide its own business, and to decide whether it is too busy or not to consider a Supplementary Estimate, and it is not the business of the Department of Finance to decide upon that question.
There have been a few instances also of virement exercised in that particular year with which we disagree. For instance, the one taken as an outstanding example was the case of gratuities for retired officers from the Army. The amount voted by the Dáil was £5,000. The amount actually expended was £47,000 odd. The Department of Finance exercised virement in this case, and authorised the Department of Defence to transfer from their savings over £42,000 to this particular sub-head. That saving was made by the Department of Defence ,on effective services, and the money was voted to pay for non-effective service— officers retiring. That is a particular instance where we believe that virement should not have been exercised, because if the Dáil voted money for effective services, there is no reason for the Department of Finance to suppose that they would have voted more money for non-effective services.
The money was not voted for an allied purpose, and on that account we object to the exercise of virement under that heading. There were various other queries put to the Department of Finance to which we got, on the whole, satisfactory replies. There is only one I would like to refer to in passing. It is with regard to fishery loans. "The Committee hopes that there will be no undue delay in introducing the legislation contemplated in connection with these loans." That is a paragraph that, I believe, appears from year to year in the Report of the Committee on Public Accounts, but so far it has been ignored. There is another matter that arises year after year practically to which I would like to refer. It is in regard to the factory that comes under the Post Office Vote. Our Committee found, and I believe the same thing was found by previous committees, that if not extravagance at least mismanagement was responsible for the very high cost of the various works given to this particular factory. A few instances brought out in the evidence before the Committee will illustrate this point. The final cost of one particular contract worked out at £1.000 whereas the estimate on which the order was placed only amounted to £485. In another case, the lowest outside tender for the job was £216 while the final factory cost was £333. In another case, the price according to the rate-book supplied to the factory, was £96, while the final factory cost was £401. These are some instances of jobs that were done in the Post Office factory to which our attention was called. Naturally some members of the Committee were desirous of finding out why the factory was not closed down completely so as to effect a saving, or why at any rate those particular jobs were given to it. We were told that the factory was necessary, and that it did some particular types of work cheaper than they could be done outside, and that in order to keep it on an economic level of working the more work that could be given to it the better. It was maintained by the witness that the factory was going to be a paying unit.
Another matter which came before us, and which I think is still awaiting a minute from the Minister for Finance, and also the Minister for Education, was the question of model schools. It appears that in the model schools, and in certain national schools, there is authority to collect fees from the pupils. Under the School Attendance Act of 1892 free education was given to the people of this country. Authority to collect fees was permitted where the fees total more than 6/- per pupil. Under the exception mentioned, some of the national schools of the country are permitted to collect fees from the pupils. In the case of the national schools, the fees are collected by the manager and paid out to the teachers, but in the case of the model schools the fees are collected and handed over to the Department of Education, the Department afterwards paying out those fees on apro rata basis to the teachers in the model schools. The point to which we took exception was that there was no appropriation of those amounts. The Minister for Education, or his Department, kept, as it were, a private account of those moneys which did not come into the Appropriation Accounts at all, and handed them back again to the teachers. We believe that is wrong. We think that any receipts that come into a Department like that should be treated as Exchequer receipts, and that any payments going out to the teachers in the model schools should be treated in the ordinary way as salaries or allowances, as the case may be. There was also a small item in the Science and Art section under the Department of Education which came before us. It arose in connection with a payment made to the Cork School of Music. A sum of something like £300 was paid, and for this a separate sub-head had to be opened by the Department. This was sanctioned by the Department of Finance, but we hold that there was no authority for it, especially as it was treated as a grant-in-aid. We hold there was no authority from the Department of Finance to do any such thing, and we recommend the disallowance of the payment.
With regard to the Gárda Síochána Vote, I believe that we have not as much to say as usual under this head. We have, however, to report that there was still continuing at that date a considerable amount of unauthorised travelling in motor cars supplied to the Gárda Síochána force—that is unauthorised use of those motor cars for private journeys. There was a system of checking the journeys on which the cars went as well as of the particular business that the officers had for each journey, but even so it appears that when the log book was checked over by the Comptroller and Auditor-General certain irregular journeys were detected and the particular officers concerned were asked to pay the damages. Under this Department also there was a more serious case brought to our notice, that is where the Department of Justice claimed that certain sums of money should be paid into the Reward Fund which we hold was not justified. The case arose where officers in the Guards were dismissed for misconduct. The balance due for the particular month in which they were dismissed was paid into the Reward Fund. We believe that is money that is really due to the Exchequer, that it should not go to the Reward Fund but that it should come back into the Exchequer. We believe further that the Comptroller and Auditor-General could not possibly be in a position to sanction the payment of that particular monthly cheque unless he was in a position to get a voucher from the person to whom the cheque was due, and that person was a dismissed officer. The Department of Finance in this case told us that they adopted a neutral attitude between the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Department of Justice, but we believe that they were not justified in adopting that neutral attitude because, as we state, "it is alleged that the Exchequer balance is being diminished in an irregular manner, and, secondly, that claim is made that the statutory obligations of the Exchequer and Audit Department should be set aside in the interests of the Reward Fund." We have asked to have this matter made right, and we hope the Department of Finance will adopt our view.
In the Army Vote many matters arose—not perhaps as serious as in previous years, but still irregularities have come before us. The Department of Defence, in three or four cases that came before us, acted without having the sanction of the Department of Finance, and in some cases where they did not act without that previous sanction they left very little time or discretion to the Department of Finance in the matter of giving or withholding their sanction. Even in cases where the Comptroller and Auditor-General drew the attention of the Department of Defence to this matter, that they had not obtained the previous sanction of the Department of Finance, we found that the Department of Defence even then was very reluctant to seek the sanction of the Department of Finance, even after the deed had been done. We found, for instance, that in the case of a number of officers going to America for training certain allowances were given to them. That was quite in order, but the Department of Defence allowed these officers to get allowances for uniforms at a date prior to the date mentioned in the Regulations which had the sanction of the Department of Defence and the Department of Finance. The Department of Defence had not asked for the sanction of the Department of Finance to giving out these uniforms to the officers before the date specified. One of the officers in connection with this mission took his wife with him. An advance was made by the Department of Defence of £45 to cover the travelling expenses of the officer's wife. That was not authorised by the Department of Finance.
In another instance coming towards the end of the year the Department of Defence found that they had money on hands, and being reluctant to surrender it to the Exchequer they proposed to buy a number of motor cars. They applied for leave to purchase these motor cars only on 28th March, 1927, four days before the end of the financial year. In the ordinary way, the Department of Finance would have taken some time to examine and consider that application, and to decide whether the Department of Defence were justified or not in making such an application. In this particular case the sanction of the Department of Finance was given on 29th March, the following day, and the cars were purchased on 30th March. If we are going to look at a matter of this sort in a businesslike way we must realise that they cannot possibly spend money to advantage in that manner, making up their minds to apply for sanction on 28th March, and then pressing, as they must have done, the Department of Finance to give their sanction straight away without any examination of their request.
Another matter that occurred in connection with the Army was that some officer unknown asked certain firms in town to supply specimen mess uniforms. These were supplied, but being supplied as specimens no officer was accountable for the uniforms, and afterwards it could not be ascertained which officer was responsible, and the account had eventually to be paid out of the Exchequer. It amounted to £95 12s. The uniforms are still there, but they had to be paid for. Minor questions also arose regarding officers who were not entitled to be mounted having their horses fed from Army rations. That matter. I believe, is being or has been made right. Also with regard to the Officers' Hunting Club, officers incurred some expenses which were not sanctioned. They had a hut in the Curragh repaired and done up to suit their requirements without sanction having been obtained, and further they had some arrangement for Army transport which had no sanction from the Department of Finance. The question that arose with regard to officers of the Civic Guards using motor-cars for private purposes also arose in the Army, but I think precautions are being taken to see that it does not occur again.
The matter of warlike stores has arisen as on previous occasions, the estimates being much smaller than the actual amount spent. We have asked that these estimates should conform somewhat better in future to the amount spent. Under Army pensions two or three points arose, and perhaps the most important points that came before us for the year. First is the point, which has been raised on previous occasions, that the Comptroller and Auditor-General felt he could not say that he had properly audited the accounts so long as the evidence on which the pension was granted was withheld from him. This has been regularised, as we have requested, by a Bill which is coming before the Dáil. As members of the Committee of Public Accounts I believe we have to be satisfied with that, but as members of the Dáil we have our own views of the Bill. There was also a question of major and minor injuries. It appears that if there is more than a 20 per cent. disability from a wound the applicant is entitled to a pension under the Army Pensions Act, but if there is less than 20 per cent. disability he is entitled to a gratuity only. Where a person had, say, two minor injuries of 15 per cent. in each case the two 15's were added together to make 30, so as to make it a major disability, and in such a case a pension was granted.
The Comptroller and Auditor-General holds that that is not legal, that the Act does not permit it, and that all that should be granted in such a case is a gratuity for each minor injury, and that two minor injuries cannot be added together to make a major injury. We considered the arguments put up for and against this, and our conclusion given at the end of the paragraph is: "The Committee cannot say where the Act allows the Minister a discretion, and until it is satisfied on this point cannot agree that the Department of Defence was justified in extending or interpreting its authority in this way." That is our opinion—that the Minister had no discretion in deciding that in some cases two minor injuries might make a major injury and that in other cases they should go as minor injuries. That is a question that will have to be further considered, and some ruling made on it as to whether the Minister has discretion or not. The last case to which I want to refer is the case of a pension that was granted to the widow of a non-commissioned officer who was fatally shot in 1922. Section 7 of the Army Pensions Act says that pensions can be awarded provided the person in question loses his life in the course of his duty while on active service and that death was not due to any serious negligence or misconduct. The Army authorities were asked for a certificate as to whether the man was on duty on active service. On 18th June, 1924, they certified that he was not. The case was put to the Judge Advocate-General, who declared that the widow was not entitled to a pension. His opinion agreed with that of the Army Pension Board. After that the applicant came back again and asked to have the case reconsidered. On l7th November the same Army authorities certified that the person was on duty and on active service, which was directly in opposition to the certificate issued by the same people on l8th June. The case was then put to the Attorney-General, who thought that the person should get a pension. His idea was that the onus of proof that the person was guilty of misconduct or serious negligence lay on the Government, who were opposing the pension, and that a person on active service is always on duty. He said that if the Government wanted to oppose the granting of this pension they would have to prove that the man was shot by one of his own comrades. As that was found impossible the pension had to be granted. Our report on that matter stated:—
"The Committee has given most careful consideration to all the circumstances of this case, and, while not proposing to recommend disallowance, it desires to place on record its grave dissatisfaction that the benefit of the doubt as to the eligibility for pension should have been exercised by the Departments concerned in favour of the applicant."
I beg to move that the Report be considered.