Laois Council makes it to top six in integrity stakes with 57% result by anti-corruption body

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

Laois County Council HQ Portlaoise

Laois County Council in top six

Laois County Council came in the top six local authorities in a new survey but it scored just above average to achieve this grade.

The corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) Ireland has launched its first National Integrity Index on Local Authorities, which ranks Ireland’s 31 local authorities based on three criteria: Transparency, Accountability and Ethics.

TII say the index and report are the result of eight months of research during 2017 and early 2018 into the systems and practices for promoting integrity in Ireland’s 31 city and/or county councils.

With 17 out of 30 points on offer, the Laois council had an overall score of 57% which was behind 70% scored by first ranked Galway City Council. Galway County Council was bottom of the list with a 17% score.

Laois received eight points for accountability, six points for transparency. It fared worst in the ethics section with just three points.

The indicators in the Transparency category measure the local authority’s publication practices.

In this section the survey found that minutes of council proceedings  were not provided online and in a timely manner but said the approved annual budget and budget commentary for 2017 is available online.

While the local authority publishs online a searchable database of past and current planning applications researchers found there are no corresponding reports included in the file with multiple applications where planning application stated that pre-planning consultations took place, but

Written submissions and observations submitted by the public on city and/or county development plans are published on the local authority’s website.

No written Laois county councillor motions on the development plan were found on the local authority’s website.

The local authority does publish a list of all purchase orders raised for goods and services over €20,000 but as of 11 December 2017, the is no information for users on contracts awarded under procurement processes.

The local authority does publish reports on councillor expenses and payments online with sufficient information but councillors’ Donation Statements were not found on the Council's website.

The local authority does publish information online on the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, including a complete list of its ‘Designated Public Officials.

Researchers could find no record of the Chief Executive's diary on the website. 

The Laois local authority scored best in the Accountability category. The indicators assess the measures the local authority has in place to promote accountability.

The local authority does provide a confirmation of receipt of FOI requests within two weeks and provides an FOI decision within four weeks.

The Council fully responsive to requests from the public (i.e. in this case TI Ireland).

There were no protected disclosures (whistleblower) policies or procedures online at the time of checking, on 8 August 2017 but it does publish an annual report on protected disclosures.

Its audited financial statements are published online and the internal audit unit enjoys full operational independence.

No procedures were shared how it investigates alleged contraventions of Part 15 of the Local Government Act 2001 by councillors and relevant employees.

The local authority’s 2016 annual report was found to be published online and the council does allow members of the public to attend its monthly meetings.

The Laois local authority scored just three points in the ethics category. The indicators this category measure how prepared the local authority is to fulfil its duty to prevent unethical conduct.

No related page or information found on Council's website on the Registers of Interests for council members as of 27 November 2017 The 2016  

The local authority does have a comprehensive up-to-date page within its website dedicated to ethics and/or governance.

Following phone calls, local authority was not found report that its Ethics Registrar proactively reviews the completeness of ethics declarations filed in accordance with the Local Government Act 2001.

The council was not found to maintain and publish online summary data on reports received by the Ethics Registrar and/or Chief Executive, with respect to possible contraventions of Part 15 of the Local Government Act, 2001/

Following e-mails, the local authority did report that it has an up-to-date risk management or alert plan, addressing corruption and fraud risks.

However, the Laois council's website was not found to publish online a risk management or alert plan, addressing corruption and fraud risks.

Following e-mails the local authority was not found to report what proactive role it takes in preventing employees from taking on certain positions in the private sector, whether during or following employment.

After phone call and email queries, the local authority did report that it proactively informs individuals of their obligations under the Regulation of Lobbying Act.

Transparency International (TI) Ireland is the Irish chapter of the worldwide movement against corruption (defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain).

It was founded in 2004 and is part of the only global organisation dedicated to stopping corruption worldwide, working to create a "level playing field" for citizens, for business, for everyone.

Its vision is an Ireland that is open and fair – and where entrusted power is used in the interest of everyone. TI Ireland’s mission is to empower people with the support they need to promote integrity and stop corruption in all its forms.