Robert Watt appointment stinks to high heaven

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It is not hard to be cynical about politics and government affairs when those in charge of the running of our country continue to treat the public as idiots.

The Cabinet is expected to sign off on the appointment of Robert Watt as the new secretary general at the Department of Health for a five-year term, according to media reports which so far have not been countered.

This is the same Robert Watt who as a top tier secretary general in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (PER) was earning €211,000 a year.

On January 6, at the behest of Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced to the Cabinet that Mr Watt was being transferred to Health on an interim basis. 

This was done without a Cabinet memo being tabled or without any discussion about the rate of pay for the full-time appointee to the job.

It was claimed at the time that Mr Watt was only being appointed on an interim basis and that a full, open, and international search for a full-time person had been commenced.

So, out of a global population of 7.9bn people, Mr Watt’s name, surprise surprise, is the one to emerge.

As we now know, Mr Watt stands to earn €292,000 a year or €1.46m over the term of his appointment.

That is a pay rise of €81,000 per year or €405,000 over the five years.

Now, as secretary general in PER, Mr Watt was one of three top or Tier 1 officials who got more pay than their colleagues, given the central role he played in Government in charge of the public purse.

Mr Watt, a combative figure, has battled with ministers and officials from other departments over funding, often as they have complained over very small amounts of money.

It is difficult to see how much more complex is a job in Health, albeit a notoriously dysfunctional department, than the one he did previously.

Certainly not €81,000 a year more complex.

The truth of the matter is that Mr Donnelly wanted Mr Watt for the job.

Rather than own the decision, for some reason he concocted this overly elaborative narrative around the appointment process and the justification for the salary, which is simply obscene.

We were told that when the exceptional €430,000 a year salary was agreed for Paul Reid to take the HSE job that it was a one off, it was needed in the circumstances. Ditto the appointment of Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner.

But sure enough, in the defence of this salary hike for Mr Watt, the two exceptional cases were given as precedent.

The Opposition has rightly cried foul and made the reasonable argument that, should Mr Watt be appointed, why not keep him at his existing top-tier salary.

It must also be remembered that Mr Watt was appointed in 2011 by Brendan Howlin on the old civil service terms, which are extremely generous compared to later appointees.

If, as believed, he will maintain his perks, not only will he see a massive jump in pay but his gold-plated pension will also be massively enhanced as it will be based off his final salary of €292,000 a year and not an average of his career earnings as is the case for those appointed after 2011.

The Government has so far defended the pay increase, but it simply stinks to high heaven and the public knows it does.

 



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