Queries raised over EI travel expenses

Sunday 20 July 2014 22.14
A confidential internal report has raised questions over travel expense claims made by staff at Enterprise Ireland
A confidential internal report has raised questions over travel expense claims made by staff at Enterprise Ireland

A confidential internal report has raised questions over travel expense claims made by staff at Enterprise Ireland.

The unpublished report found "numerous occasions" where employees at the export-support agency had provided insufficient information to allow for a reasonable justification for the expenses they had claimed. 

The report, a copy of which has been obtained by RTÉ's This Week, carried out by consultants Ernst and Young, also found that some staff were claiming expenses for trips without including even basic details such as the purpose of their trip or where they were going.

The auditors said that there was a risk in this scenario that management would be unable to ascertain whether some expense claims were legitimate or bogus, and that false claims could be approved.

The most recent Enterprise Annual report shows that the state body spends €4m on travel every year.

Ernst and Young also found questionable omissions on the agency's computerised system which records visits made by to clients.

The auditors found that the number of expensed visits claimed by what they called "selected employees" was greater than the number of visits actually recorded on the internal computer system - which is used to track and monitor visits to client companies.

The auditors said that these discrepancies "may lead to suggestions that employees.... have expensed for more visits than have actually occurred".

In terms of the process for claiming expenses, they also said that the onus was on the expense claimant's line manager, rather than the member of staff, to make sure that the expense claim was legitimate.

And that this was in a scenario where the "travel and expense process does not require the employee to provide evidence in the form of invoices".

They found instances where employees made multiple trips to visit the same client.

Some of these trips were also expensed in the overnight category even though the distance meant they could return in the same day. They said these practices "could only be interpreted as an inefficient use of time and resources".

The report does not specify the value of the claims which came under the auditors spotlight, nor does it detail the destinations of the trips which were examined.

Given Enterprise Ireland's role in support of exporting companies, staff at the agency are required to travel a great deal both at home and overseas.

The report was obtained by RTÉ under Freedom of Information.

A spokesman for the agency said that they were confident that no travel or subsistence claims were paid without back up justification and invoices - where these documents were required.

The spokesman pointed out that in line with general Government policy invoices are only required where claims include services provided and paid for. 

The spokesman also said that Enterprise Ireland management controls are in place to prevent any claims been paid that lack the requisite supporting information.
 
The spokesman also said that while their internal computerised system was an important tool in monitoring meetings with clients, it wasn't a requirement at the time for this information to be input at the time the audit was finalised, in June of last year.

The agency said it has accepted all the recommendations contained in the auditors report.