The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) is a strange beast. It’s supposed to lay down the law to elected officials – TDs, senators and councillors – and public and civil servants. It kind of does that, sometimes. But without, apparently, applying best practice standards.
They’re in the news today for telling Councillor Oisin Quinn that he was a bold boy for voting on something, after he’d checked whether or not he could vote, and being told he could, when he owned property in the affected area.
The council, quite rightly, then said “Hmm – lots of councillors own property in the area that elects them. Yet the county development plan must be signed off by councillors. Who apparently are not allowed vote on the plan if they own property in the area… we see a problem. We should get SIPO to clarify things.
SIPO… well, SIPO refused. The public body charged with maintenance of standards in public life, refused to offer clarification or advice when requested to do so by another public body.
My dealings with them, thus far, have been minor. As someone who can spend money, I have to print off a form every year, sign it, and return it to them. Yes, that’s physically print off a form, and physically sign it. Because this is only the 21st century and nobody trusts that new-fangled “electronic communication” thing. I tried doing it by email and was told I couldn’t. The form essentially states “I am not corrupt. I will procure stuff transparently and fairly. I am not buying stuff from a friend or relative.” The thousands of forms, when returned to SIPO each year by thousands of public servants, are presumably then stuffed into boxes, unsorted, to be ignored forever, judging by the total lack of prosecutions of county managers for buying and leasing storage places for e-voting machines from relatives. For example.