Watchdog suspects procurement fraud at NI education board

17 September 2009

18 September 2009 | Jake Kanter

The Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) has been slammed for poor procurement practices.

A report by the Northern Ireland Assembly's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found evidence of suspected fraud and supplier favouritism in what it described as "one of the most worrying cases" it had seen.

The PAC found that a BELB officer awarded a £64,000 maintenance contract to his uncle's firm. Paul Maskey, (pictured) chair of the committee, said: "Despite this being known by the employee's supervisor and senior management, including the chief executive, the board's own instructions on dealing with conflicts of interest were ignored."

Another maintenance officer accepted a "four-day junket to Italy" organised by a supplier.

There were a number of other instances where contracts were awarded and the work was not completed to the required standard or never carried out at all.
Following an external review commissioned by the BELB into school maintenance procurement, three officers were disciplined. The committee, however, said the duration of disciplinary measures did not reflect the seriousness of the offences.

A spokesperson for the BELB said it had put "extensive time and resources" into dealing with a issue
"The board has now developed and put in place systems and procedures that have been recognised by Department of Finance and Personnel as best practice in public sector maintenance procurement."
Maskey said: "The schools estate currently has a backlog of £200 million for maintenance work. Even if only a small proportion of this spend is fraudulent, very significant sums of public money are potentially lost."

The PAC made a series of recommendations to the BELB on improving its maintenance procurement standards.

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