The garda fraud squad has completed its long-running investigation into alleged corrupt practices at an education board, which is understood to have resulted in 16 arrests.
he Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) has now “essentially completed” its inquiry into corruption offences at the Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB), according to a source.
The Anti-Corruption Unit in the GNECB is leading the probe. The investigation is codenamed Operation Lakefront.
In 2019 the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General released details of the audit carried out into the KWETB’s financial statements from 2015.
It raised a litany of concerns including what it described as a weakness in procurement and around expenditure, and referred certain matters to the GNECB.
The audit noted concern about project cost overruns and propriety matters, as well as “excessive” expenditure at a five-star hotel and golf resort.
In the summer of 2021, a Department of Education report into matters at KWETB called for an “external review” of its board in the midst of the garda investigation.
The report said that concerns were expressed by “many of those interviewed” at the KWETB about the “capacity of the board to provide the necessary leadership to ensure ongoing adherence
to high standards of corporate governance”.
The report, published by the Department of Education in June 2021, was the latest review of the organisation by independent consultant Richard Thorn.
He was commissioned by the Education Minister to review the organisation after serious concerns about procurement practices and spending were raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
The report praised the progress made by the board. However, it said while there was much to commend in its implementation of corporate governance plans “concerns were expressed by all about recent unhelpful developments at board level that have diminished trust and effectiveness.”
“In considering the commentary of those interviewed, it is the reviewer’s opinion that there is a significant risk that, unless these issues are addressed, the board’s capacity to continue to lead the improvements in governance in KWETB will be diminished,” the report added.
The report recommended “an immediate external review” of the board’s effectiveness.
A statement from the board said: “The Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board welcomes the review of its Corporate Governance Programme carried out by Dr Richard Thorn on behalf of the Department of Education.
“The report focused on the overall effectiveness of KWETB’s corporate governance.
“KWETB were pleased with the findings, in particular the finding that substantial progress had been made.”