PracticeConsultingCritics query EC fraud unit

Critics query EC fraud unit

Doubt raised over whether European Commission will turn to bureaucrats, not accountants, in crackdown.

Senior accountants have questioned whether the European Commission’sot accountants, in crackdown. proposed anti-fraud unit will be staffed by enough qualified practitioners to function effectively.

Earlier this month EC president Jacques Santer headed off a European Parliament censure vote by proposing a new independent unit, OLAF, to take over from the commission’s existing operation, UCLAF. The new unit will be tasked with cutting the estimated #3bn that is currently lost each year from the European Union’s 90bn-euro budget (#63bn).

Santer also sought to establish a small committee of financial ‘sages’ drawn from the commission, the Court of Auditors and the parliament, to produce a report by the end of March which will form the basis for OLAF.

But sources in Brussels are sceptical, both about the prospects of OLAF and the committee of experts, as it is now known, or that the initial March deadline will be met.

‘Will it really be independent or will it be full of softies? And is it going to be a technical outfit, as it should be?,’ asked one senior accountant, who predicted it would take ‘several months’ to recruit the right people for the unit.

Julian Paleson, head of the English ICA’s Brussels office, added: ‘It will be virtually impossible for them to produce a detailed report in six weeks and the goals that have been announced have been very vague.’

English ICA council member Douglas Llambias suggested in writing to chancellor Gordon Brown that he set up an expert panel of English ICA members based in the EU.

The composition of the expert committee was expected to be confirmed as Accountancy Age went to press. Lord Nolan, first chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Sir Gordon Downey are among the British names tipped to lead the EU drive.

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