Farmers would be forgiven for wondering if they are the most policed people in the land.
Every year, every parcel and plot on every Basic Payment Scheme application is measured and weighed and checked for dungheaps or overgrown corners.
Any errors, real or perceived, on the farmer’s part will see payment withheld until the issue is resolved.
This usually involves the farmer accepting that the parcel is 0.011ha smaller than had previously been declared.
Of course, the earlier declaration was probably based on the maps presented to the farmer by the Department at the time.
That’s all fair enough, it’s public money and must be carefully accounted for.
But contrast that with what journalist Ken Foxe has uncovered from the internal audit of Kilkenny County Council for 2018.
For starters, there are the 18,000 unexplained absences among 218 employees of Kilkenny County Council. That’s an average of over 80 days per person.
The internal audit recognises clear anomalies as a mitigating factor in this case.
Temporary firefighters who don’t clock in were seen to “accumulate unexplained absences every day”.
But what about the 404 days uncertified sick leave taken by 129 employees in 2018? There’s no excusing that, it’s a clear breach of practice.
Or how about the payment of phone bills for former employees, including one who hadn’t worked for the local authority for seven years.
The yellow card system means farmers now get a little leeway for minor errors in relation to things like tagging and registration
Then there’s the sloppiness around business absences. There were almost 1,500 approved business absences, but many failed to fulfil the mandatory requirement to include a reason for the absence.
The report specified one staff member who had “used a full stop” as a reason for over 100 business absences. Another had used “business leave” as an explanation, no fewer than 65 times.
The yellow card system means farmers now get a little leeway for minor errors in relation to things like tagging and registration, but we are all held on a fairly tight leash.
The Kilkenny audit does show a significant internal review process, but do State employees hold each other to account with the same degree of rigidity as they do farmers?
The money paying for the wages, absences and phone bills is generated from general taxation, from residential property tax payments, and from rates on small businesses in small towns, such as clothes shops, hairdressers, and corner shops.
Every penny counts for them, even before the devastation to small business wrought by the pandemic is considered.
Rural communities have a right to expect the highest standards of accountability in return.