2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exemplary use of Freedom of Information Act
You can't afford not to read this book.
At the outset I wondered how the authors were going to make a full book out of credit card statements obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). I needn't have worried. The book is much more than that. It is an informed review of the cronyism, patronage, clientism, wasteful spending and conflict of interest...
Published on 9 Feb 2011 by Póló
3.0 out of 5 stars little more than a name and shame list, lacks wider explanation
Wasters is an account of the misuses of state funds, poor governance, organisational failure and cronyism in public bodies in Ireland. It includes chapters on the growth of semi-state agencies, cronyism and political patronage, ministerial expenses, FAS, HSE, CIE, DDDA/NAMA, PPPs and other `bad deals', and social partnership. It's often fascinating, but suffers from a...
Published on 14 May 2012 by Rob Kitchin
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exemplary use of Freedom of Information Act,
You can't afford not to read this book.
At the outset I wondered how the authors were going to make a full book out of credit card statements obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). I needn't have worried. The book is much more than that. It is an informed review of the cronyism, patronage, clientism, wasteful spending and conflict of interest rampant among the Irish establishment.
And it is a model of investigative journalism. The authors have done the hard graft and have produced a magnificently rounded work. Having read what was going on, I am convinced they could have made a whole book, and not just the odd chapter, out of the same credit card statements.
They are both journalists and have drawn on a wide range of sources, contacts and experience over the years. This is particularly true of Shane Ross who has long been a thorn in the side of the political establishment.
Much of the material is based on information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. This Act has been much criticised and particularly so in relation to limitations introduced after its initial period of operation.
I have operated the Act myself from the side of the administration, so I can view it both from the point of view of a responder to FOI requests and as a citizen.
From the latter point of view I favour a maximum of transparency consistent with the effective operation of the institutions concerned. There has to be some allowance made for commercial sensitivity, privacy of third parties, legal advice and matters still under active consideration, and the Act does provide for these. The real question, in my view, is how it is then operated.
In operating the Act I took the citizen's view and released the maximum possible amount of information, not always going down well with some of my bosses.
I also formed views on individual journalists through my dealings with them under the Act.
I devoted a week's, or more, resources to assembling material in response to a request from The Star on a very controversial national issue, only to find that they only used a single sentence from the material and accompanied this with a picture of the subject of the request in a pair of shorts on a pier in Kerry. Not exactly an exemplary use of State resources. But then I had never heard of the Star and didn't realise it was a redtop. Not that that would have made any difference in the provision of the material, but I might have been a little less surprised at the use made of it.
I also devoted a lot of resources to assembling material in response to a request from the paper of record regarding the same issue and found the journalist in question to be a serious journalist of integrity. I had an upfront relationship with him which survived a disastrous lapse on his part which brought down on me the odium of the Attorney General's office and serious dissatisfaction from my own Minister's Office. In the course of the fallout from this episode I was informed that the Attorney General was throwing a freaker. The journalist apologised to me personally and I never held it against him. Mutual respect is not impossible in these circumstances.
One of the strengths of the Act is that it requires all relevant documents to be listed in a schedule which is supplied to the requester. It is therefore possible to see exactly what has been withheld and the onus is put on the provider to justify the withholding.
It is worth mentioning here that the authors were not put off by the disgracefully inflated charges threatened by FÁS for providing FOI material. Good on them.
I am not against substantial and justifiable charges being levied for FOI requests, particularly when they come from newspapers. These are commercial requests and if properly operated will contribute to the commercial profit of the papers concerned. They also frequently involve significant costs to the taxpayer and diversion of effort on the part of civil/public servants from the "day job".
Fishing expeditions via the FOI Act are spurious and wasteful. They are on a par with facetious Parliamentary Questions which are purely designed to puff a TD's PQ count in the likes of Vincent Brown's Magill/Village league tables.
This book is in a worthier category, The authors have used the Act as it was originally intended.They have put in the graft: processing the raw information accessed through the Act, cross referencing it, and confirming it from multiple sources.
Anyway, I'm sorry for going on about the FOI Act at length, but I think a balancing perspective on it is worthwhile.
The breadth of what the authors have revealed is a staggering indictment of Irish society and its misplaced trust in its "betters".
A must read and a tribute to investigative journalism.
This is the latest book in the admirable Penguin series, which includes the Bankers (Shane Ross) and The Builders (Frank McDonald and Kathy Sheridan), shining the light of day on the shady dealings of the agents of the Celtic Tiger, God help us.
5.0 out of 5 stars THE CELTIC TIGER CHEWS OFF IT'S OWN TAIL - YET AGAIN!,
Well written and researched (mainly by way of the Freedom Of Information route) book in the journalistic style. It deals with, and details literally hundreds upon hundreds of instances where wholly unnecessary squandering of the taxpayers money took place in various State owned and funded concerns charged with the management of public services such as Health, Training, Transport and assorted others covering most aspects of the governance of State responsibilities and assets.
The magnitude of the "flushing good money down the drain" was monumental - hundreds of millions of Euros and took the form of the executives, most of whom were cronies of the political elite, employing friends and others completely unnecessarily on a massive scale, ultra expensive frivolous jaunts around the world (often with spouses)with first class travel, 5 star hotels, luxury limousine and chauffeur hire when abroad, luxuriant meals in the very best restaurants in town, and general unrestrained blowing of expenses including lots of hiring private mind-numbingly expensive small jets. And the travel extravaganza was only the tip of the iceberg that sank taxpayers money to the bottom of the cesspit without trace or any effort made to recover from the miscreants.
Having read books on the Building, and Banking scandals that reduced a once burgeoning economic renaissance into a "cap-in-hand" begging nation, it is beyond belief that virtually nobody has been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms for the heinous crimes inflicted upon the Irish people. Strange that isn't it?
3.0 out of 5 stars little more than a name and shame list, lacks wider explanation,
Wasters is an account of the misuses of state funds, poor governance, organisational failure and cronyism in public bodies in Ireland. It includes chapters on the growth of semi-state agencies, cronyism and political patronage, ministerial expenses, FAS, HSE, CIE, DDDA/NAMA, PPPs and other `bad deals', and social partnership. It's often fascinating, but suffers from a sense that one is reading little more than a name and shame list. In fact, there is very little narrative beyond an indignant list of issues and their cost to the taxpayer, and the ordering of chapters seems to be somewhat random (in fact, they could be re-ordered and it would have little effect on the read). At one level this is fine, and provides a useful service, but at another it is a significant shortcoming.
There is very little attempt to explain why the present state of affairs exists beyond a general lack of appropriate governance and oversight, cronyism, corruption and propensity to establish semi-state agencies and public entities. Analysis is left purely at the level of the implicit and empirical. I was not expecting a detailed academic explanation of the operations of the Irish state, its political economy, and its underlying ideology - this is after all a general readership book - but I did expect some attempt to make sense of the situation (as with Fintan O'Toole's Ship of Fools, for example) and to provide a nuanced portrait of the public sector. In Ross and Webb's account all public bodies exhibit the same poor governance, and the same levels of waste and inefficiency. This is clearly not the case. There are plenty of examples of bodies that do a very good job on limited resources, where senior management have a sense of responsibility and desire to deliver quality services, and do not treat the entity as their own personal piggy bank and jolly expense account. They also display the same level indignity for all expenses, regardless of whether they are legitimate or not, and the scale of expenditure, with scorn poured equally on a couple of euro for a coffee as for millions of euros on inappropriate property ventures where there are clear conflicts of interest.
More problematic in many ways is that the book makes no suggestions as to what should happen to address the various problems that they identify. It is simply not enough to say `here is the problem and its scale, and it should be dealt with', as if there is one, obvious solution. In my view Ross and Webb needed to conclude, not with a sideswipe at the Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General, but rather with a path forward that they would like to see implemented to address the various inter-related issues.
There are clearly other alternative ways to tackle the issues that Ross and Webb identify and if they had had a go at setting out what they would like to see changed their suggestions would, no doubt, be different to mine. I suspect they would include more about re-inventing some entities, getting rid of some public bodies in their entirety, and introducing rigorous systems of accountancy, oversight, management and governance in terms of key performance indicators, goals and milestones, and the like.
Overall, Wasters fulfils a role in setting out the governance and accountability issues that affect a number of public bodies in Ireland. Some of the examples will make your blood boil and Ross and Webb provide a great service by exposing some of the excesses and waste. As a read, however, it really lacks a narrative that seeks to explain why such a system exists and how it should be changed. In that sense it is a missed opportunity.
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncovers the darker side of Political, Banking, Civil Service and Businessmen,
I enjoyed reading the book, but it must be noted that as it was co-written by Shane Ross and Nick Webb, the former an insider and therefore also both has tainted hands and possibly a political agenda as to what he is willing to expose, at least has the honesty to expose issues that others in the "Political classes" would rather deny.
The book is well written, although it is designed to infuriate whilst informing, so may be regarded as a populist publication rather than a truly impartial analysis.
The book does a good job of exposing the massive waste and corruption that is seen as the norm within the self-proclaimed "upper echelons" of the political, banking, civil service and business worlds.
Being a self-confessed "grumpy old man" this book pushed the appropriate buttons of outrage, indignation and disgust whilst also providing information that was perceptive and informative.
I was tempted to give it a three-star review due to its populist nature, but am willing to accept that it makes no pretensions of being anything else but populist!
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not my money, so who cares!,
Wasters is truly great insight into the brazen and cavalier way in which some of the so called pillars of the Irish state and semi-state sector seem to have squandered untold millions in state resources. Shane Ross, an Irish TD (member of parliament) takes an almost forensic look at the spending patterns of a cohort of (insider) individuals who were entrusted with the effective husbanding of millions of euro in Irish taxpayers money. The insiders, or Cronies as Shane describes them, went on a communal spending spree like no other and in so doing contributed significantly to Ireland's rapid slide from financial grace. If you need some good insight into how Ireland's insiders lavishly spent their way down the slippery slope and dragged the rest of us with them, read Wasters. For me the book was a page turner, and indeed quite an eye opener.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gombeen men,
I suggest that you read this book a little bit at a time because if you are Irish it will make your blood boil when you read how a bunch of eeeeejits flitted away so much taxpayers money, ended up with nothing to show for it and sucessfully ruined a thriving economy.
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Wasters by Nick Webb (Paperback - 2 Jun 2011)