Press Release - Financial Management and Reporting for Fishery Harbour Centres
The Comptroller and Auditor General has completed a report on the financial management of the fishery harbour centres. The report has been presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas today, 8 July 2014.
Fishery harbour centres were established under the Fishery Harbour Centre Act 1968 as centres in which to promote and develop sea fishing activities. Six centres have been designated under the Act. Overall responsibility for their management and operation rests with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (the Department).
The day-to-day operations of the centres are funded through harbour dues and charges set by law and rents from properties. In addition, annual capital grant funding from the Exchequer is made available for the development and maintenance of harbour facilities.
The Department took over responsibility for management and operations of the centres from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in October 2007. From then until April 2008, transition arrangements were applied to facilitate the transfer of responsibility. However, those arrangements were not effective, and resulted in significant lapses in invoicing of harbour dues.
Over the period 2007 to 2011, €4 million in rental income was received by centres. Over €2 million in rent was billed retrospectively, of which €360,000 remains to be collected. In one of these cases, rent had not been billed for eight years, resulting in a build up of arrears of €264,000. In another case, the sale of a property agreed in 1993 had still not been completed- a deposit of 50% of the sales price was received in 1993, but there was no rent billed on the property since then.
The Department has updated and enhanced its accounting systems to address these weaknesses. This took time to resolve and further strengthening of systems for rent collection is ongoing.
The Department has also experienced difficulties in generating a return from the use of car parking facilities at some harbours.
Given the extent of retrospective billing, the Department faced significant challenges in collecting debts. Over €5 million was owed to the centres at June 2013. The Department has taken a number of steps to collect outstanding amounts which have had varying degrees of success.
The form of the centres’ accounts was devised many years ago. Unusually, they are prepared on both a cash and accruals basis. Some of the accruals-based information is not consistent with current accounting practice, and there is scope to improve the quality and usefulness of the financial information presented.
The nature of the activities of the centres, the significant assets at their disposal, and the accounting transactions are unlike other activities administered by the Department, and may require a revised governance and organisational structure tailored to cater for these activities.
The report sets out a number of recommendations that address ways to enhance the financial management of the centres and the Department’s response to these recommendations.
Notes for Editors
The Comptroller and Auditor General is an independent constitutional officer with responsibility for the audit of public funds. He reports to Dáil Éireann.