22 February 2001 Edition

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Tourist Board chief in fresh scandal


The `Northern Ireland' Tourist Board and its chairman Roy Bailie were again in the hot seat last week after a highly critical report was published by the head of the Six-County audit office.

The Tourist Board has come under fire over contracts awarded to a printing company chaired by Roy Bailie. And in the latest twist of this saga, Enterprise Minister and Unionist spokesperson Reg Empey has leapt to Bailie's defence.

Sinn Féin vice-chair of the Assembly public accounts committee, Sue Ramsey, has accused the Tourist Board boss of diverting tax payers money to serve his private interests.

``The revelations about the board again show that this body is unaccountable and is failing to respect the guidelines set up to ensure contracts are handled in a fair and impartial way,'' she said. ``The board is enforcing a policy of favouritism that goes against all the principles of fair competition. The support given by the Enterprise minister to such practises is not only unacceptable. It is deeply worrying.''

In a highly critical financial audit conducted over the last 12 months, the Controller and Auditor General stated that the Tourist Board did ``not comply with proper purchasing procedures'' in awarding contracts worth £3.9 million.

The comments were made after printing contracts worth more than £1.7 million were awarded to a company chaired by Roy Bailie, despite its tender being thousands of pounds higher than the lowest bid.

A contract for the printing of the board's 1999 foreign brochure was awarded to W&G Baird, even though the company's offer was more than £12,000 higher than the lowest bid. It has also emerged that tenders for print contracts in excess of £15,000 were not publicly advertised. Neither did the board did use an ``approved supplier list'', a measure aimed at encouraging fair competition.

This is the second time in recent months that the Tourist Board has faced questions over its spending.

In July last, the North Belfast News revealed that almost half a million pounds which the Tourist Board claimed to have spent in the north of the city was in fact spent on city centre projects, one of which was the development of a luxury hotel.

Enterprise minister Reg Empey on Friday refused to condemn such practises and threw his weight behind Bailie. He claimed that the work carried out by Bailie's company had decreased since his appointment to the Tourist Board.

The Tourist Board's finances have long been under fire in various quarters. Its bosses have also been accused of enforcing a litany of discriminatory policies against nationalist areas. Cultural events and historical tours in the West and the North, which are amongst the most deprived areas of the Six Counties, have never made it to the glossy pages of the Board's brochures.

The Ardoyne Fleadh, despite being one of the biggest free open air festivals, has never been mentioned in the Board's promotional material.

Sue Ramsey says that the latest revelations are the tip of the iceberg in relation to misappropriation and mismanagement of public funds. ``This is just another graphic example of the culture of unaccountability that runs through a whole quango of public bodies,'' she said. ``Such practices have never been challenged. It is time that public bodies started being accountable to the taxpayers and those who fund them in the first place.''

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