Ulster Unionist economy spokesperson Alan Chambers MLA has said that the failure of the Department of Economy to progress the promised 100% site inspections of all RHI boiler installations is completely unacceptable.
Alan Chambers MLA said:
“When former Minister Simon Hamilton was rushing through his one-year statutory rule just before the last Assembly fell, he was at pains to emphasise the importance of 100% site inspections. This was deemed to be a central part of his plan to stem the haemorrhaging of public funds due to the RHI overspend. He claimed that the alleged fraud and abuse would be exposed and costs would be significantly reduced through the 100% site inspection regime.
“Yet we now find out 6 months later, through the Auditor General’s latest report, that there has been a total failure to appoint an independent inspector to undertake the promised detailed on-site inspections of all non-domestic RHI installations. This is completely unacceptable, because these inspections are crucial to not only exposing abuse of the scheme, but also vindicating the many legitimate users who have been unfairly vilified for months.
“The latest report by the Audit Office qualifying the annual accounts of the Department of the Economy is a timely reminder that no one yet has been held accountable for the RHI debacle. For the second year running the Auditor General has had to qualify his opinion on the annual accounts of the Department for the Economy because of the overspend on the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. He has used very similar language to last year’s Annual Report where the full extent of the potential overspend was first spelt out to the general public.
“What particularly stands out in this report is the contrast between the costs under the pre 18 November 2015 non capped rates and the properly tiered post 18 November 2015 rates. Clearly the estimated cost to the Northern Ireland budget in the current financial year of £2m compared to the previously estimated cost of £30m is a significant improvement. However, two points must be made; this is not the zero cost that Arlene Foster promised at the start of the year, and the impending judicial review of the decision to rush through a one-year fix to the overspend by retrospectively applying the revised tiered post November 2015 rate means uncertainty continues. There is absolutely no guarantee that this will cost the public purse ‘only’ £2 million this year, given the legal uncertainty.
“We also are waiting for a consultation by the Department- presently running without a Minister- to find a permanent and fair solution for both legitimate users of the scheme and the general taxpayer- to the RHI debacle. I am also very concerned at the potential for the Public Inquiry to be strung out and its findings delayed.
“At the end of the day there has to be some political accountability for the horrendous mistakes which were made in devising and rolling out the Northern Ireland RHI schemes in the first place. As the Auditor General has reminded us, “… if the scheme had had proper cost controls in place then none of the costs should have had to be met from the NI budget”