Some Reasons to Reconsider an Auditor Nomination

Having listened to the news last Tuesday, 8th November, 2011, I was moved to tweet ‘Ireland should withdraw Mr. Cardiff from Court of Auditors in light of seriousness of debt overstatement on his watch.’ I felt shocked that the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, the Táiniste, Eamon Gilmore, and the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, were all staunchly opposed to withdrawing the nomination of Mr. Kevin Cardiff to the European Court of Auditors. These are three very experienced and smart politicians, whom I value and respect, but I felt they were letting Ireland and the European Community down in relation to this issue.

I do not know Mr. Cardiff and I have no doubt that he is very well ‘technically qualified’ to be a member of the European Court of Auditors. However, in the aftermath of the disclosure of an overstatement of the Irish national debt by about €3,600,000,000 by the Irish Department of Finance, which had endured for about a year, I found the attitude of the Irish government astonishing. The three senior government members mentioned may have reasons for holding to their original nomination, but, whatever the ‘pros and cons,’ to me there seems to be a valid and unassailable reason (in fact, about 3.6 billion little reasons plus some bigger ones) not to proceed with the nomination of Mr. Cardiff. Proceeding is likely to harm Ireland’s reputation.

I am not one to condemn anybody for making a mistake, or for being in charge when a mistake was made. This is a professional matter, to be addressed in a professional way. On the face of it, the serious accounting error occurred during Mr. Cardiff’s watch as Secretary General. Auditing practices within the Department should have been sufficient to detect this error much sooner. It is important that the persons at the top (the Minister for Finance and the Secretary General) in such a situation shoulder the responsibility for the error. It may well be that Mr. Cardiff was simply unlucky in relation to the occurrence of an unfortunate ‘human error’ that went undetected over a period. Nonetheless, what has occurred should not be ignored insofar as it impacts on an already-active nomination to the European Court of Auditors.

The people of Ireland are suffering greatly because of the financial crisis that has befallen the country. The suffering and pain are not uniformly distributed and are certainly not distributed in direct proportion to where the blame may lie. There are many who, through no fault of their own, have lost their savings or are in great distress because of mortgages they are unable to repay, or who are unemployed. Poor auditing practices were at the very core of some of the disastrous economic events that have taken place in Ireland.

‘Auditing’ refers to checking and ensuring that everything is as it should be and that, in particular, financial positions are exactly as they are stated to be. I believe the previous Irish government made a disastrous (and very unwise) decision to provide an unlimited state guarantee to all the Irish banks, based on incomplete and inaccurate information. When auditors make mistakes, or do not do their job as thoroughly as they should, there can be great suffering in society, as we have seen. There are certainly some auditors in Ireland who have let the country down. I don’t know, but just possibly there are such auditors who have worked for or on behalf of the Department of Finance. Also, I fully believe there are many excellent and highly qualified auditors (or potential members of the European Court of Auditors) in Ireland—talent is one of our greatest strengths. I would not accept that the choice of suitable nominees is restricted by lack of eligible candidates. Ireland certainly has a duty to put forward one of its best.

Rightly, the citizens of Ireland have replaced the government that allowed the country to get into such an economic mess. As a citizen, I am concerned that the structures and procedures within the Department of Finance must have been inadequate over a considerable period of time: clearly there was insufficient financial regulation. The currently elected politicians have a mandate to ensure that any necessary changes are implemented within the Department. They also have a mandate and an obligation to ensure that auditing at the level of the European Community is as healthy and as irreproachable as possible. To my mind, that obligation is inconsistent with a refusal to withdraw Mr. Cardiff’s nomination to the European Court of Auditors.