Monday, October 17, 2005

Government wasting money

Of late I have been writing think pieces about various topics and not much on the various scandals that have hit the government. So I might as well.

Well the big one to hit is the PPARS. With the government spending €166 million euro on a computer system that did not work. With €70 million going to external consultants. This is a terrible waste of the public’s finances. Now I wouldn’t go into the details as they have already been discussed at length here, here ,here and here to mention a few. The problem seems to be that the government seems to have forgotten how to budget. They are getting in billions in tax revenue which is showing no signs of decreasing. This seems to have place the government into a mentality where by they don’t need to budget that stringently. The lesson that one would have thought were learned from the 80’s was how to get value out of government spending. In the 80’s they didn’t have the money to spend so they had to learn to make every penny count. But this lesson was not learned now in this Celtic tiger. Minister Neol Dempsey dismissed the controversy saying that "in a €41 billion budget, the level of misspent money relating to P-PARS is relatively very, very small". This is not the point or is it true. That money would have helped build schools, add more beds to hospitals, helped with child care and many other areas. The original budget was €8.8 million. It would be understandable for this budget to increase. Unforeseen problems will always arise and require extra funding but an 1900% increase is beyond unforeseen problems. Ireland on Sunday reported that Micheal McDowells wife Prof Niamh Brennan chair of the Commission on Financial Management and Control Systems in the Health Services had flagged the issue in January 2003 so why did it keep rising unchecked. The supreme arrogance of the Fianna Fail party is the part of the problem.

But part of the problem is also us. We have come from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest in about 10 years. This is unprecedented growth. With this peoples wealth has risen also has peoples expectations. We believe we deserve an infrastructure to rival the rest of Europe in quality, we expect a good public transport system a world beating health service and top universities. And lets face it we do deserve them. But the fact remains despite most peoples wish we are not Sweden.

For instance to build a road structure comparable to the rest of Europe two things are needed, money for materials, land, wages, plant etc and time to build and raise the money. The time aspect is where we fail. Where Europe has had 50 years to get to where it is . We expect to be there in 5. We have not had the time to build the roads that are needed. The roads that 10 years were well able to take the numbers of traffic on them are now gridlocked. To build roads, to expand or by-pass existing routes takes time and money. Something the government though massively rich does not have infinite resources of. The EU now has more important countries to build. Structural funds are no longer going to help. Nor do we have a Marshall plan to fund us. Most of the money needs to come from the government coffers.

With voters giving out about the state of the state the government is pressurised to act at speed. When you have to act at speed you make mistakes you cut corners and you seek help. This is what is happening to the government. In an attempt to give the people what they want they are giving us what we don’t want.

For instants to get the funding into place to build a large scale road it is quicker to get private funding in to help rather then waiting to accumulate the necessary resources. This also applies to the health services. Where Mary Harney is trying to increase the amount of beds by letting private enterprise into the market. While perhaps not the greatest approach from a social ideal model point of view it will get create more beds. If the government follows this up with greater support for the medical card holders such as what was announced last week it may possibly be the quickest way of bringing our health service up to a good European standard.

But back to the PPRAS system. The idea of the system was to make the health service more efficient. Rather then spending time negotiating the contract working on the particulars and making sure that is was right. The government dived right into it. They wanted it done and as Mr Dempseys comments seemed to suggest that the government has a lets throw money at it mentality. So instead of slow careful monitoring by the civil service they chose to fast track it through consultants and now we have a €150 million bill for a project that doesn’t work. If it had been done through the civil service it would have come in with a cheaper price tag but also it would have come in a few years later by which time the loss of productivity could have equalled the money saved.

Research takes time to come up with a product it is not a quick fix. Which is what we demand from the government. The mach 3 razor blade cost €750 million and took 5 years to develop so is it really surprising that some things take time and money to develop. If we want to equal Europe we either have to wait or except money is going to be poorly managed by all parties.

1 comment:

Mark Dowling said...

Sadly government and computers don't seem to mix - if we could work out how to bring in bureaucratic computing projects on time/budget it would be Ireland's biggest export.

When I was in college we were given the example of the London Ambulance Service computer rollout and we were told any large scale project was averaging as follows:

final cost = initial budget x 3.