Taxpayers’ money must be protected – not fraudulent farmers: Close

In response to the Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General for NI into the Sheep Annual Premium Scheme, Alliance Finance Spokesman and member of the Public Accounts Committee, Seamus Close MLA, said:

“This Audit Office report raises many areas of concern that the Department of Agriculture must address. One of the most important of these is in relation to fraud.”

“Once again we see poor Departmental handling of counter-fraud procedures, and the impression is given that the Department is a soft touch.”

“The Audit Office has highlighted yet again a number of worrying examples of slipshod behaviour and a lack of transparency and consistency in the referral of suspected fraud cases. Here we see evidence of poor standards of documentation, cases becoming time-barred because of long delays and an extremely low level of prosecutions. Similar failings were previously highlighted by the Audit Office report into national agricultural support fraud (9 January 2001).”

“Nowhere are the risks better illustrated than the Foot and Mouth cull, where major shortfalls in the number of sheep being held by farmers were discovered. There were even 14 farmers claiming sheep premium in the cull zones who were found to have no sheep at all. I find that outrageous. But for Foot and Mouth, it is unlikely that these discrepancies would ever have come to light.”

“The Department has previously told us that it has a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ to fraud, but I have seen little evidence of this in this latest report. Seven years after the European Court of Auditors reported on the poor quality of flock records in Northern Ireland, the Audit Office now states: “There appears to have been little improvement”.

“What is clearly needed is an effective and rigorous inspection process that detects irregularities, sufficient resources must be allocated to tackle fraud effectively and the Department must ensure that staff are properly trained in applying the procedures.”

“Suspected fraud cases should be pursued more effectively, with fraudsters prosecuted. The publicity value and resultant deterrent effect of a successful prosecution would justify the costs incurred in pursuing a case.”

“Taxpayers’ money must be protected – not fraudulent farmers. Yet again we are left with promises by the Department that they will tighten procedures. I can be forgiven for saying that I will believe it when I see it.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *