The auditor brought in to investigate the RHI scheme as it began to fully dawn on civil servants that it was a major crisis has said that the scale of what he found was unprecedented in his experience.
The experienced government auditor said that he was shocked by the nature of what he found within DETI’s energy division and was deeply concerned at the way in which the civil servants running the scheme cooperated with his investigation.
Michael Woods, head of internal audit at DETI, said that over his career he has been involved in about 500 audits but when he was asked to write a report about the RHI scheme in 2016 it led to “the worst opinion I’ve ever had to give” because what he found was that “there’s just no control [over spending public money] there”.
Mr Woods said that even if civil servants had been right in their belief that the money was coming from the Treasury’s budget rather than Stormont’s, “you don’t just spend because the money’s there – you spend because it’s justified to spend it”.
He added: “I think that was lost. The idea that it was [Treasury funding] almost seemed to people to remove the risk – but we are in charge of public money”.
Mr Woods was also scathing about how members of DETI’s energy division reacted to his enquiries.
Two civil servants – Stuart Wightman and Seamus Hughes – did not provide him with a copy of a ‘handover note’ which had been given to them when they joined energy division and which significantly undermined the story which they were telling him at that point.
Mr Woods said it was “one of the lowest levels of cooperation I’ve experienced” and led to the department beginning an investigation ahead of potential disciplinary proceedings, a process which has been put on hold while the public inquiry is ongoing.