NI Audit Office SDLP Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon MLA said the findings of the independent NI Audit Office Report into the Social Investment Fund of poor governance, conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency and accountability bears a striking resemblance to RHI and is further evidence of the type of politics and partnership government run by the DUP and Sinn Féin.
Responding to the NI Audit Office Report into SIF published today, the North Belfast MLA said:
"The findings of this independent report by the NI Audit Office into the allocation of millions of pounds of public money under the Social Investment Fund bear a striking resemblance to the revelations we have seen from the RHI Inquiry. Significant governance failings, lack of fairness, consistency and transparency, conflicts of interest, missing paper trails on key spending decisions and the lack of demonstrable value for money across the board is further evidence of the appalling type of government the DUP and Sinn Féin were running in partnership.
"It is important to recognise that there are good projects making a difference in communities which have been awarded money from SIF. This is not a reflection on them. It is a damning report on how the SIF scheme was devised and operated. This extensive report confirms the serious concerns the SDLP has been raising for some time about the lack of openness and transparency around how the scheme was set up and carved up by the DUP and Sinn Féin, and goes even further to highlight how public money was being handed out with no accountability and no clear audit trail.
“£93 million of tax payers’ money has been allocated via SIF, a scheme which the NI Audit Office has found ‘did not operate transparently' and causes them significant concern. This report highlights failings on behalf of Executive Office Departmental Officials, who are ultimately accountable for public spending. Serious questions must be answered by them. External experts must now be brought in to oversee implementation of the Audit Office recommendations and to ensure nothing like this is allowed to happen again. The urgency of this is even more important given civil servants are being handed more power in the absence of an Executive by the Secretary of State.
"But we also need answers from the two political parties - Sinn Féin and the DUP - who deliberately designed the flawed scheme, and repeatedly denied any issue with how public money was being allocated. As the architects of this scheme, who vilified anyone who raised questions about its operation, they must not hide behind officials or try to shift blame."