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Posted on: January 10th, 2011 3 Comments

Together with Nick Webb, I have written a new book, ‘Wasters’, that has just been published (in shops now, retailing for aprox. €15). ‘Wasters’ tells the story of the scandal of public waste in Ireland, as exemplified by our exposés of extravagance and junketry in public bodies FAS and CIE, amongst others.

An exclusive extract appeared in the Sunday Independent:

Two weeks after his own report on waste and excess throughout the public sector was released, it has been revealed that the State’s spending watchdog, the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG), is not above an occasional junket on the taxpayer.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act and revealed in the new book Wasters — by the Sunday Independent’s Shane Ross and Nick Webb — shows that between 2007 and 2010, the C&AG John Buckley and his predecessor John Purcell travelled to conferences around the world at the taxpayers’ expense.

According to the book, Mr Buckley, who was appointed in May 2008 to oversee a new regime of austerity, jetted with his wife to the scenic region of Bergen in Norway for a six-day junket, the book states.

Figures obtained under the FoI Act show that the flights cost €1,056, while the stay at the Rica Hotel cost €700. The records show that Mr Buckley paid for his wife’s travel.

This was followed by other trips to Budapest at a cost of €339 for two nights at the Intercontinental Hotel, London, Edinburgh, Luxembourg (twice) and Cardiff, where his hotel bill of €332 included two bottles of water.

Extracts Pages 24 & 25

The office of the C&AG also spent taxpayers’ money treating visiting dignitaries to meals in some of Dublin’s most exclusive restaurants.

“We [the taxpayer] took Poland’s top government auditor out for dinner, Campari, pints and a cheeky Cabernet Sauvignon in Roly’s Bistro in Ballsbridge, at a cost of €232,” write Senator Ross and Nick Webb.

“There was also a meal for the New Zealand spending watchdog in Jay Bourke’s excellent Eden Restaurant in the heart of Temple Bar, where the bill came to €116,” says the book, which will be published tomorrow.

Mr Purcell, who was paid a pension of €126,383 in 2009, according to new figures released this weekend, is described in the book as “quite the traveller”.

Over the last year-and-a-half of Mr Purcell’s tenure as C&AG, the taxpayer paid close to €10,000 for his long-haul trips and stays in luxurious hotels, it is claimed. In April 2007, he spent five days abroad, visiting San Francisco for an auditors’ junket aimed at “discussing current and emerging issues of concern to governments”.

His flights cost a cool €2,822, and he also filled out a subsistence claim for €821 to cover his stay at the elegant boutique Serrano Hotel in San Francisco. Only a month later he was off to Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, where he stayed at the city’s only five-star hotel, the Lev, claiming €481 in subsistence for a three-day stay while he paid a visit to the Slovenian Court of Audit.

Three weeks later he was off to Sofia in Bulgaria, where he stayed in the Sheraton while he visited their national audit office.

In November 2007, Mr Purcell and his wife (who he paid for) travelled to Mexico City with flights costing €788. He also claimed €1,456 in subsistence to cover his seven-night stay at the “swanky” Hotel Nikko.

Later trips that year included jaunts to London and Helsinki.

Then, in 2008, Mr Purcell travelled to Marrakech, which cost the taxpayer almost €2,000 in total.