02 July 2004
The accounts of seven of Northern Ireland's 17 departments and major public bodies have been qualified for 2002/03 in the second year of resource accounting.
In his annual report, John Dowdall, the comptroller and auditor general for Northern Ireland and head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO), said that some departments had failed to provide accounts of sufficient standard.
The most severe weaknesses were identified at the Department for Social Development, where the comptroller 'was unable to form an opinion' on the accounts, referring particularly to estimated losses of £121m in income support and other benefits through error and fraud.
The same department is also guilty of 'significant weakness in the financial control and monitoring of grants' paid to housing associations and community groups, said the NIAO.
Accounts for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety were qualified because of income losses of £9m to £11m resulting from patients incorrectly claiming exemptions from health service charges.
The Department of Employment and Learning was said not to have 'engaged directly' with training providers to recover irregular expenditure of up to £2m on the individual learning accounts scheme.
Invest Northern Ireland was also criticised in the comptroller's report, with its accounts qualified over poor supervision of funds spent by third-party organisations, mostly through contracts signed by its predecessor body, the Local Enterprise Development Unit.
Following anonymous allegations about the conduct of the funded organisation Into The West (Tyrone and Fermanagh) Ltd, an independent investigation was carried out.
When weaknesses were discovered, another 28 contracts were examined.
This found widespread procedural failings, with unclear contracts, absence of monitoring and contracts awarded without tendering. Other investigations are continuing.
The comptroller reported that despite the Department of Finance and Personnel requiring Private Finance Initiative commitments to be reported to the Northern Ireland Assembly, departments had not complied with this.