(Sent 22nd of Nov)
Dear Board Member
I am writing to you the board of the KWETB to ask that we give serious consideration to how we should proceed in light of the Public Accounts Committee deep dissatisfaction with the stonewalling of the committee by the Chair and the Chief Executive.
I formally ask that we as a Board
1) Object to the holding any further meetings in secret and request the immediate distribution of minutes of secret meetings already held.
2) Depute the Chair , the Vice Chair and the Chief Executive as soon as possible and for the remainder of the investigation process. Also that for her own protection and that of the investigation that we depute the Corporate Services manger, solely in her role as minute taker, for the remainder of the investigation.
What we need as Board Members to be sufficiently informed
Each Board member has duties and responsibilities – the first is to be informed. If you are unaware of what happened at the Public Accounts Committee I would strongly urge you to view the discussion, in particular the conflicting views of the Public Accounts Committee and their legal advisors and the views of the Chair, the Chief Executive and their legal advisors around what could and couldn’t be accounted for, in their role as accountable persons for millions of euros of tax-payers money.
The behaviour of the Chair and the Chief Executive was described as ‘ unprecedented
stonewalling’ of the committee, stonewalling that was based on little more than verbal advice which conflicted with the advice given to the PAC committee.
It is only a matter of time before attention quite rightly turns to the board as to what actions we as a board have taken to reassure ourselves as to the integrity of our response to the investigation and in relation to the governance issues highlighted. I have as you know been intensely uncomfortable about the holding of secret meetings and the blanket application of in-committee status to all discussions relating not just to the substance of the investigation but inexplicably applied to any board discussions in relation to how we should respond to the issues it raises. In-committee meetings are the exception in public bodies. It is unprecedented for secret meetings to become the accepted practice rather than the exception. That said, I believe a growing number of members are deeply uncomfortable with the pattern of secret meetings that has evolved since our first secret meeting. And we as board members must decide if we are going to proceed with one more secret meeting. In light of the bizarre behaviour of the Chair and the Chief Executive at the PAC committee I am very concerned about how we as a board will be adjudicated for accepting one more secret meeting.
It is a derogation of our responsibility as a board to leave all decision making in the hands of others. We are the ones that will be asked to account for our response in light of unprecedented behaviour and conflicting information provided to the Board. It is our duty to act with the highest levels of integrity and transparency as public interest directors to protect the tax-payers investment. That requires action on our part at the very least the seeking out of information.
We as a board have been provided with a wealth of information to be sufficiently aware of the issues around procurement and of how policies and procedures should act as a check on issues arising in the future. My fellow Board members, we cannot unknow what we know and no amount of ‘independent’ advice can absolve us of the duty to ask the questions we are entitled to ask to ensure that we are informed so that the risk of impropriety around procurement and other issues is minimised for the future. With the procurement issues in mind on October 12th I asked for the following information from the Chair
” 1) all contracts signed by Chairs or board members since January of 2014
2) all tender opening panels participated in by Chairs/board members since 2014
3) a list of all board members who have the authority to sign/co-sign contracts
4) a list of all executives who have signing authority at different levels
5) a list of all board members declarations of interest
6) the register of all declarations of interest by staff “
I have not received any of the information requested. I believe that there remain key questions about which we must inform ourselves as a board. My understanding is that two signatures are required to sign major contracts , one from a board member and one from a member of the executive. That typically would be the Chief Executive and the Chair, however I have no confirmation of that. And others may also be delegated signing authority. It is unacceptable to me as a board member, worse still, as an Audit Committee member, that I have not been able to ascertain clearly
- who has signing authority on the Board
- who has signing authority from within the Executive
- what mechanism is in place for selecting signatories
- which members of the board have participated in tender opening panels
- what mechanisms are in place for selecting board members for tender opening panels
As the seriousness of the issues we are dealing with starts to emerge we can no longer continue to ignore these questions. To not ask these questions is to put our heads in the sand and hope that no-one can therefore accuse us of impropriety. That is simply not the case. We as a board need the answers to these questions in order to be able to ensure that the proper and effective policies and procedures are in place to prevent any issues being raised from happening in the future. This should in no way impact with the investigation by the Department
Concerns about procedures to date
They include but are not limited to
- the withholding of information from the board including legal advice received to date
- the uncertainty around who is solely and specifically providing legal advice to the board
- interaction and communication between the investigator and the legal advisors provided by the KWETB’s insurers IPB
- the absence of any minutes for all three secret meetings and I use the term ‘secret meetings’ advisedly as In-Committee meetings would have had minutes supplied in a timely manner
- the failure of the minutes of the public discussion of the investigation to reflect the debate and procedures followed before going into committee
- that the person recording the minutes of the discussions held in public and relating to the investigation has a senior role in relation to one of the areas being investigated
- the failure of the Chair to inform the Board or the Audit Committee, until asked, about the participation of the KWETB at last Thursday’s Public Accounts Committee meeting.
- the potential for conflicts of interest surrounding the Chair and Vice Chairs roles and their signing authority which relate directly to the areas being investigated and the concern about any potential conflicts of interest that might arise while the investigation is ongoing.
- the failure of the Chair of the Audit Committee to report to the Board as requested at last Wednesday’s Board meeting
Escalating Safety concern in relation to school building
Last weeks misrepresentation by the Chair in relation to advice he had or hadn’t received has served only to heighten my concerns around the issues outlined above and others…
I have been made aware of serious safety concerns in relation to certification processes happening in the construction of schools buildings. I attach a letter from a Mr Sam Deacon of Drumderry Aggregate Ltd who has been trying to highlight serious safety concerns relating to a school extension for approximately 20 months. He has also made available a wealth of documentation providing evidence for his concerns.
In light of the unprecedented and serious events unfolding, I am increasingly concerned about the safety of our children in buildings constructed or certified by companies at the centre of the CAG and the Departments investigation. The urgent focus now must be to answer the question how safe are our children and our staff in our schools? No stone-walling should be able to deter us from finding out the answer to that question.
Given the seriousness of the issues emerging and the need for full, transparent public accountability I respectfully request that we exercise our authority as a Board to
1) call a public meeting to vote on the motions proposed above,
2) to ascertain independent legal advice provided specifically and solely for the Board(without discussing the substance of the issues being investigated by the Investigator) and
3) to request or receive the information outlined in questions 1-6 above
If we fail to exercise our duty to be informed and we continue to tolerate what is now acknowledged by the Public Accounts Committee as unprecedented stonewalling by the Chair and the Chief Executive, it is within the power of the Minister for Education to dissolve the Board. It is not too late for us to work together as a board to negate any future possibility or need for this.
Fiona McLoughlin Healy
Board member KWETB
Kildare County Councillor