Leading article

DUP under pressure over botched heating scheme

While the assembly's public accounts committee is rightly placing a spotlight on senior civil servants over the botched renewable heating incentive (RHI) scheme, it was the turn of economy minister Simon Hamilton to be pressed on the controversy yesterday.

Mr Hamilton was questioned in the assembly about the initiative, which encouraged people away from fossil fuels and towards the installation of expensive eco-friendly systems by paying a tariff per kilowatt of heat burned over a 20-year period.

However, unlike Britain, the scheme had no cap on payments meaning that businesses could simply heat empty buildings just to make money.

The scheme is now closed but the damage has been done with the result that the taxpayer will pay out more than £1 billion by 2036 to Northern Ireland businesses that signed up to RHI.

This is a scandal of monumental proportions and it is clear the executive, in particular the DUP, are coming under pressure on this issue.

In the assembly yesterday, Mr Hamilton firmly rejected the suggestion from Jim Allister that Arlene Foster, when she was minister at Deti, the department in charge of the scheme, was `asleep at the wheel in terms of failing to exercise ministerial supervision and ensuring there were adequate cost controls in place.'

It was Mr Hamilton's contention that previous ministers had followed all advice given to them but this advice was wrong.

The economy minister said that criminal proceedings should be brought against anybody who abused the scheme but this could prove difficult given that the design of this project left it open to widespread abuse.

Indeed, if officials believe people are fraudulently exploiting the scheme then surely legal action should already be under way to recover public funds.

There is no doubt this entire fiasco with its appalling lack of oversight reflects badly on the Stormont administration.

With questions piling up, we need to see absolute transparency and accountability from all those involved.

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