In February 2010, when the UK parliamentary Treasury Committee criticised the NI Department of Enterprise, Trade and Industry’s failure to identify the problems with the Presbyterian Mutual Society, the relevant NI Executive Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, dismissed their report as “the shoddiest piece of work I have seen coming out of Westminster for some considerable time.”
Three years, £225million in compensation, and 6 disqualified directors later and the Northern Ireland Ombudsman, Tom Frawley, agrees with the Treasury Committee. From the Belfast Telegraph report
Mr Frawley, acting on a complaint brought on behalf of some of those caught up in the society’s fall, focused on DETI’s legal responsibility to scrutinise the activities of the PMS.
He found “maladministration” in DETI’s examination of the PMS’s annual return and said a “very limited administrative check” was “wholly inadequate”.
Mr Frawley said the consequence of this was that the department failed to identify that the PMS was acting outside of its legislated activities and was working in a way that required FSA regulation. He said those failings contributed to the “injustice experienced by members of the PMS preventing them of availing of the compensation scheme”. [added emphasis]
But the ombudsman stressed that DETI’s actions were not the sole cause of the PMS’s troubles and said society members did not require additional compensation above the package agreed in 2011.
It’s just as well then, as Mr Justice Gillen noted, that our ministers “are accountable to the Assembly where they are likely to be questioned and scrutinised”…