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Coillte – Safe in the Public Shelter?

Tuesday 9th September 2014

Anyone who has ever watched a Mafia movie knows the word omertà.  Wikipedia says it’s “…a cultural expression and code of honour that places legitimate importance on a deep-rooted family sense of a “code of silence”, non-aggravation with authorities, and non-interference in the legal actions of others.”
For us at ISME, it’s easier explained as that code of silence amongst senior public servants, that is one of the ills that is so deeply ingrained in the public sector and something that that needs to be rooted out badly. It seems that in spite of seven years of economic carnage, due in no small degree to state maladministration, some things just haven’t changed. Senior public sector employees don’t snitch.
Today brought another story about the lack of transparency in how this small state of ours is run and it seems that an omertà has descended on senior public servants as not one of them, it seems, is willing to go kicking and screaming to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office, or indeed the boss of bosses himself, An Taoiseach, to ask some hard questions of colleagues.
This morning’s Irish Independent, in an article by Shane Phelan (@shanephelanindo ) says that Coillte, the State owned Forestry body that fought tooth and nail not to be privatised and that managed to remain in the ‘public shelter’, is refusing to tell the Government how much their acting CEO, Gerry Britchfield, is paid. This man is a public employee, paid from the public purse, but it appears that the public is not allowed to know his salary. This is wrong, wrong, wrong.
If he is paid in accordance with public salary guidelines what has he got to hide? This man’s salary should be posted on the Coillte website anyway and indeed ISME recommends that every top civil and public servant’s salary, including all bonuses and benefits, should be posted on an official government website.  After all, every public company in the private sector has to do give this information and senior executives of these companies aren’t even paid by the taxpayers.
There is a government-imposed salary cap on the Coillte chief executive of €191,000 and the Dept. of Agriculture wants to know if that is being adhered to. However Coillte’s official spokesman said that it’s Coillte’s belief that the CEO was not subject to salary disclosure requirements and that the company had received legal advice that Mr Britchfield was not subject to Section 35 of the 1988 Forestry Act, which requires Coillte’s chief executive to abide by terms and conditions determined by the Government.
ISME hopes that Mr. Britchfield paid for his own legal advice in this regard and that the taxpayer is not paying for legal advice that ensures that the same taxpayers are kept in the dark about Mr. Britchfield’s salary.
Minister, you know what you have to do.