We’re all watching the carry on over the FÁS expenses and obviously everyone is outraged. No doubt lots of people will be going on about the government and civil servants ripping us off. What will probably be missed is that corruption like this is inevitable when we as a culture celebrate ‘pulling a stroke’. A pleasant and humourous euphemism for corruption. The lads at FÁS were tearing the arse out of it because they were ripping off the abstract figure of the government. No harm, no one is getting hurt? Apart from every Irish citizen. How do you eradicate this? Well you can legislate and investigate but it remains inevitable given the endemic support for this type of corruption.
Given the scale it all seems pretty distant from us so I thought I’d mention a recent experience. I was going from Galway to Shannon Airport a couple of weeks back and waiting to be picked up by the company’s regular taxi company who do that run. I’ve no issue with them, they provide a great service and really help make the start and end of journey stress free. However, that morning the driver was running late because of an earlier run that was taking longer so he phoned a Galway based taxi company to pick me up and to bring me in towards the town to meet him. As it happens, this is the same taxi company that I use anytime I want to take a taxi into the town centre and the cost is generally ~€13. So he made the booking before he got in touch with me to let me know what was happening so when I got a call from a taxi driver (whose car I could see from my window) I was slightly surprised. He asked ‘You called for a taxi?’ I gave the, admittedly unhelpful, response of ‘I think so’ as I wasn’t expecting it to be the particular taxi company. His response was a fairly rude ‘Well either you did or you didn’t’ and then went on to get directions. I came out to meet him and said I was still getting ready (was due to leave at 7am, this was about 6:45am) so he said fine. Finished up what I was doing in a hurry and got a call from the other driver to explain where he was meeting me. Hopped into this taxi and the driver flew off out of the driveway without a word. Along the way he hardly spoke and took the demeanour of someone who didn’t want to be doing what he was doing. He did have €5 on the meter when we left my place though. Main driver had told me he would sign for the taxi when I arrived as they had an account with them. When we arrived at the meeting point we didn’t see who we were meeting so he gestured that he wanted paid and out of there. So I paid him and he said ‘just get him [other driver] to add it on to his’. Anyway 2-3 minutes into this the other driver arrives and asks for the docket, taxi driver says cash paid you sort it out. The fare was €17 for a shorter distance than I normally take, not by a huge amount but the fare had been ‘maximised’. What’s the relevance of this story you ask? Well, it was clear to the ‘shuttle’ taxi driver that this was a corporate booking, so expensing the trip back to a company would happen. I can only conclude that he took this to mean that ‘maximising’ the fare was fair game as a faceless company was footing the bill and that anything resembling customer service or common courtesy weren’t required.
The problem is, that attitude operates on larger scales i.e. at national level with politicians and civil servants. Nobody is getting hurt when money is taken out of the big pot that is the budget? Tear the arse out of it, yer a mighty man for takin’ it handy like that. Problem is pulling a stroke on the government is taking money out of each other’s pockets because we’re the ones who suffer the failed health service, education cut-backs, etc. Why do we celebrate the stroke?