Sunday, May 13, 2007

Public Probity has many facets.

It seems that the Taoiseach has successfully passed the probity exam set for him by the Tanaiste, who now sees no reason why the electorate should not return the current coalition to Government on 24th May.

Meanwhile, the opposition continues to highlight Government waste and mismanagement, with PPARS and Electronic Voting singled out for special mention.

However, the Association of Higher Civil & Public Servants (AHCPS) annual conference earlier this week serves to remind us that both coalition parties are actually in the dock when it comes to probity in public office. This Government’s 2003 Decentralisation Plan was one of the most shameless political strokes in living memory, constituting a massive abuse of public office for naked political gain in selected constituencies.

The plan completely ignored the same Government's National Spatial Strategy, published just a year earlier, and it’s attempted implementation has bordered on the farcical. It would be funny if the implications for the country were not so serious.

The AHCPS conference was told that less than 10% of Dublin based civil servants would be prepared to move with their jobs to decentralised locations. The cost involved in disruption of service, loss of experience, staff recruitment, retraining and redeployment etc will mean that the public money wasted on this political exercise will make PPARS and Electronic Voting look like very small beer indeed.

A further consequence of this botched exercise does not appear to have been sufficiently highlighted by the media. All political parties are agreed that widespread reform of the public sector is necessary in order to deliver better value for money through enhanced services to the public. The decentralisation stroke has alienated and demotivated large swathes of management within the public services, the very personnel whose knowledge and support would be crucial to achieving that meaningful reform.

The 2003 decentralisation plan is a probity exam which both the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste have to pass. I know how I'll be marking their performance.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent

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