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Whistleblowing (with teeth)

Ireland has the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (established under Article 33 of the Irish Constitution), to safeguard public money.

The Dail Public Accounts Committee is capable of performing useful work in the same area. However the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office is small and the PAC is subject to being influenced by political considerations.

Ireland’s capital budget has grown significantly in recent years. There is little reason to believe that either the Civil Service or the Government have the skill or experience to control, manage or audit the contracts flowing from this budget.

There is a ready, cheap partial solution to this, one that has the merit of being a deterrent as much as, if not more than, a remedy.

It can be seen working in the United States of America in the False Claims Act. In that jurisdiction a common law procedure (qui tam), fallen into disuse in the United Kingdom, was used during the Civil War to uncover profiteering and corruption in the delivery of supplies to the Union armies. (General John C. Fremont, head of the Department of the West was found to be associated with Isaiah Woods, a known crook, and his bodyguard had helped themselves to $5,000,000 worth of contracts). There were plenty of contracts and much need of them; Colonel Murphy of the Union Army was warned by General U. S. Grant to post extra sentries on the stores at Holly Springs; he went to bed instead and awoke to find a $4,000,000 blaze around him. General Van Dorn had arrived, as expected.

It has been proposed to revive the qui tam procedure in the UK.

A revival would be timely in an era of Public Private Partnerships and, in Ireland, co-location hospitals.

A False Claims Act privatises the effort of uncovering fraud of public funds and rewards the whistleblower with a percentage of the recovered stolen proceeds.

The obvious candidate for the role of whistleblower is an honest (or not), former (or current) employee of the fraudster. The employee is likely to be privy to the obligations of the fraudster and the failure to meet those obligations.

Is there a more clear case for urgent legislation?