While The Audit Committee is formally established by the Ombudsman, it was agreed that its membership would be agreed by Council and it would report jointly to the Ombudsman and the Council. It is required to formally report on its activities during the previous year within three months following the end of that year.
The Committee was first appointed in October 2005, and following reviews, there were amendments to its Charter in 2007, 2009 and 2011. The Committee currently consists of Michael Connolly (Chairperson) and Caitríona Ní Charra, from the Council, and Noel O'Connell, who is head of the Local Government Audit Service. Mr. Dermott Jewell (Chairperson of the Council) also attends Audit Committee meetings.
The Ombudsman appointed Stuart Meharg as the Internal Audit provider at the end of 2009, for a period of three years. The function of Internal Audit is to review the internal control systems of the Bureau.
The Secretary of the Committee is a staff member of the Bureau, currently Anthony O'Riordan, and other members of staff, including the Head of Administration and the Finance Officer, also attend meetings of the Committee
The main tasks of the Committee are:
(a) to oversee the internal audit function; to examine the rolling audit plan and the annual work plan; and to review all reports by the internal audit firm; to track progress on outstanding items.
(b) to examine the audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the annual statement of accounts, and to meet with a representative of the C&AG annually to discuss the report.
(c) to consider whether processes are in place to manage risks in accordance with organisational guidelines and business plans.
Where appropriate, the Committee makes recommendations to the Ombudsman and to the Council.
The Committee met on four occasions during 2011.
As an overview, the Internal Auditor concluded that the Bureau's systems were operating effectively and efficiently, though certain improvements could be made. Most recommendations were accepted by management, and had been, or shortly would be, implemented. Those not accepted were reviewed and supported by Audit Committee and Council. At each meeting, the Committee examines implementation progress on all outstanding matters.
At its meeting on 4 April 2011, the Committee considered and approved the Chairman's Annual Report for 2010 to the Ombudsman and the Council.
The Committee discussed a Report on Risk Management (Author: Mr. Aidan Horan) and noted that it would be formally reviewed by relevant staff at least twice a year. The report did not highlight any new areas of concern but focussed on areas which require further and ongoing review.
The Report on Customer Service and Media Relations was also reviewed at this meeting. The Report concerned issues which are not addressed in the strategic plan regarding reception and switchboard cover, and direct access to staff by telephone and email.
The Chairperson thanked the outgoing Chairperson for his consummate professionalism and commitment to the work of the Audit Committee. These sentiments were echoed by all members of the Audit Committee.
At its meeting on 11 October 2011, the Committee considered reports from the audit firm relating to:
(a) Report on Corporate Governance;
(b) Report on Human Resources; and
(c) Report on Income and Levies.
In the first report, it was noted that a lot of progress had been made regarding risk management by both the Council and the Corporate Governance Committee. The Audit Committee requested that it be kept updated on progress regarding this issue. The Chairperson also stated that the Corporate Governance Committee had produced a report for Council on this matter.
The internal audit firm also advised that it was satisfied with the 3 year term of the current strategic plan provided the strategic plan is updated annually. It was also noted that the current 3 year strategic plan complies with the requirements set out in the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Act 2004.
It was agreed that an independent legal opinion would have to be obtained to determine if the Council Secretary could waive his employment rights and whether a new contract of employment would have to be drawn up for the Council Secretary.
Government recruitment policy was considered in the second report. The Chairperson advised that the Bureau would "work within the spirit of the Government's public sector recruitment and promotion embargo." It was noted that if there was any intended divergence with the "Government Recruitment Policy", then this would have to be brought to the attention of the Council by the Ombudsman and the appropriate representations would then be made by the Council to the Department of Finance to seek the relevant approval.
The Committee also considered the report on Income and Levies. The Chairperson noted that there was no "high classification" regarding any recommendation in this Report. It was suggested that online registration and the payment of this levy should be examined by the Bureau.
The Bureau's Superannuation Scheme was also discussed at this meeting. The Chairperson emphasised that the Council had done everything possible to address this matter but that it was now with the Department of Finance to ensure that there would be a legislative amendment to transfer the Bureau's Superannuation Scheme into the "Exchequer Pension Scheme."
The Committee also requested the internal audit firm to prepare a report on "Quality and Consistency of Decision Making" be completed and reviewed in the first quarter of 2012. This report would examine the efficient handling of the Bureau's work load, including the processing of complaints through the Bureau.
At its third meeting, the Committee reviewed and amended both the Audit Committee Charter and the Internal Audit Charter.
At its final meeting of the year, the Committee reviewed the Management Letter and discussed same with the Representative from the Office of the C & AG. The Head of Finance noted that the FSOB Management was allowed to comment on the issues raised in the Draft Management letter and these comments were subsequently included in the Final Management Letter. The management letter from the C&AG to the Ombudsman contained a favourable audit opinion on the financial statements of the Bureau for 2010. It did raise several specific issues and made recommendations, which the Ombudsman has accepted and implemented. The Accounts provided a true and fair view of the Bureau activities and there were no qualifications in the Auditor's Report.
The Committee wishes to thank the Ombudsman and the Staff of the FSOB for their assistance and help during the past year.
Michael Connolly, Chairperson, for and on behalf of the Audit Committee.
Date, 28 February 2012.