This BBC news story and Teresa Townsley's letter to the Public Accounts Committee [pdf file] at Westminster once again question the independence of the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the ability of the media to give all concerned a fair deal.
BBC: "The audit report said that £25,000 of this went to one of the institute's board members, Teresa Townsley. She had not told any of the other board members about the payment.
The money was paid into an overseas bank account controlled by Mrs Townsley and her husband. She did not co-operate with the audit office investigation."
I think this non-cooperation needs to be set in the context of Ms Townsley's earlier dealings with the NIAO as well as the claim in The Detail that she withdrew her co-operation during the course of the BTI investigation.
PAC: "The final draft of this NIAO Report, which I received on 24 January 2006, clearly shows that the invitation to investigate my assertions and look at the related evidence appears not to have been taken up. I am further concerned by changes and additions to this current draft Report from the last draft which I consider add innuendo and forms of wording which could be misleading. I was informed by the NIAO in a letter dated 20 January 2006 that "it is not normal to engage in repeated rounds of third part clearance". I was also informed in the same letter to address all further correspondence regarding procedural aspects of the Report to a London firm of solicitors.
I do not believe there has been "natural justice" to date and I write to you, as Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts at Westminster to seek to attend when this Report is presented and I would be willing to be questioned.
26 January 2006"
A right merry muddle. But a merry-go-round that just keeps on turning
Why didn't PAC take up Ms Townsley's offer to be questioned in light of her challenge of the NIAO report? PAC's 'Mrs Townsley’s detailed comments, which were appended to the NIAO Report, fall far short of an adequate explanation' IMO falls far short of the need to check the veracity of the facts being assessed.
Does the media, old and new, treat ALL sides to a dispute equitably? Remember that not all parties are in a position to defend themselves when confronted by public service bodies funded by the tax-payer.
Do politicians need to take a serious look at the independence of the NIAO?