NI Water: Dixon was a DRD appointment to the Belfast Harbour Commissioners

Here’s another little snippet that further highlights the Permanent Secretary’s lack of candour with Stormont’s PAC. When asked by Patsy McGlone about the apparent conflict of interest in pulling Peter Dixon into the Independent Review Team when both the Phoenix Gas CEO and Mr MacKenzie were such close colleagues, Paul Priestly gave this answer:

I have known Peter Dixon as a business contact for a couple of years. This is a very small place, so it is inevitable that people will know each other. The judgement to make is whether these people are professional and have high integrity and whether they undertook an evidence-based review. I think that the answer to the last question is yes — the review was evidence based. They reached their conclusions on the basis of evidence.

What Mr Priestly does not tell the PAC at this point is that his Minister Conor Murphy had appointed this ‘business contact’ to the Board of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners; probably one of the most important and prestigious public appointments in Northern Ireland.

By refuting the idea that MacKenzie’s close relationship to Dixon was a conflict of interest Priestly then unintentionally reveals another for his own department. This means that three out of five of the main figures involved in the set up and conduct of the Independent Inquiry Team are now linked by a number of interlocking interests.

Which then begs the question: how was this IRT ever to be construed as being materially independent?

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  • if you put as much exellent investigative reporting into
    roi collusion cronyism….etc etc
    the more abused people/citizens of this country would
    perhaps not be the most bankrupt western nation

  • Cynic

    Of particular relevance here are the Nolan Principles which all holders of public office and public appointments are usually asked to specifically sign up to. That applies to all appointees and perhaps the Perm Sec himself::

    The Seven Principles of Public Life are:-

    Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.

    Integrity – Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

    Objectivity – In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

    Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office
    Openness – Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict informtion only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

    Honesty – Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

    Leadership – Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

  • Mick Fealty

    We are proving there is a gap in the market and that we have practical means and skills to fill it… Just need to sort out the business model…

  • William Markfelt

    And in all seven principles of public life, it appears that all involved in public life fail in seven of them.

    Honesty? Openness? These are Northern Ireland’s politicians and civil service mandarins, yes?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘how was this IRT ever to be construed as being materially independent?’

    Same old, same old. I’m aware of another instance where the terms of a government agency investigation were pre-determined between the government agency and the investigating body who may, or may not, have even over-stepped their authority in taking on the investigation.

    Despite there being others to investigate, the framework of the investigation was set in order to exclude others and select just a few persons for investigation.

    The nature of the investigation was such that, in hindsight, it could be construed as sectarian in nature from the outset.

    I’m also aware that the police were involved in this ‘investigation’ from the outset, and merely laughed at the notion of there being anything to investigate, hence the involvement of another agency who, I believe, were probably instructed by one government agency to reach the conclusions they eventually reached.

    The agency requesting an investigation and the investigating agency then ‘colluded’ on more than one occasion to ensure that the investigation’s findings was suitable to both.

    There was no independence involved whatsoever, and it’s likely that the only investigation that could have been regarded as proper was by the police and the proper legal system, as opposed to a ‘show trial’, as Mr. Dallat recently referred to in the Assembly.

    Why you should make comment on a lack of independence, Mick, beggars belief. It has been going on so long, so often that it can be taken as a given where these monkeys are concerned.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I meant to post this morning Apologies in advance if it should be on earlier thread!
    It seems there were a few issues with the appointment of the chair of Belfast Harbour Commission.

    “There was a lack of documented evidence on coverage of the probity principle at candidate interview in terms of assessment and testing, although verbal assurances were given that this principle was tested
    ™ There was a lack of documented evidence on coverage of conflict of interest in terms of explanation and follow-up with any of the interview candidates, although verbal assurances were given that this area was tested
    ™ The Panel Chair failed to complete and return a feedback form on the IA’s performance during the appointments process to the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPANI)
    ™ The Independent Assessor (IA) was not notified of the outcome of the competition once the Minister had signed off on the Departmental Submission (raised as an audit issue in a previous Departmental competition).”

    In light of the later issues on the appointment of NEDS to NIW , it seems that such public appointments seem to be causing tremendous problems for DRD

  • Mick Fealty

    But what has this got to do with Dixon? He’s only appointed in the last few working days of 07. This report is about 06-07. And what, if any, relevance does it have to the case in hand?

    Sorry to be pedantic, but if you spell these things out it will help the rest of us, and keep yourself out of trouble.

  • Pigeon Toes

    DRD have had continual problems with their public appointment process and which they appear not to have learned from. Those problems remained when the NEDS were appointed to NIW.

    Otherwise what would be the point of audits?

    In the words of Mr Priestly

    “It certainly gives rise to a perception”

    By the way thanks for expanding on the Peter Dixon info I posted this morning,.
    I didn’t have time or the inclination to draw the point out vis a vis “business contact”.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Indeed the issue was raised at the PAC meeting 01/07/10.

    “Mr McLaughlin:
    The Commissioner for Public Appointments produced two audit reports on your Department’s
    public appointments process. The first, which was in 2006-07, considered the appointment of the
    chairperson of the Harbour Commissioners, and the second, which was in 2007-08, examined the 65
    appointment of two NIW non-executive directors. Both audits raised concerns about the way that
    DRD handled probity and conflict of interest. The commissioner’s report on NI Water stated
    “A probity issue arose at interview in relation to one candidate. There is no clear evidence or record that this issue was
    fully explored to identify whether the candidate met the standards required”.
    The report continued:
    “The Minister was not subsequently advised of the probity issue in the submission and this left him fully exposed to
    embarrassment had he exercised his right to appoint this particular candidate.”
    As the accounting officer, can you tell us whether you consider that the defective appointment
    procedures that your Department operated go some way towards explaining the subsequent need
    to dismiss four board members?”

  • Pigeon Toes

    Ah it takes a while for MLAs and others to catch on William 🙂

    Even then it has to be on *their* terms, and for just the right issue…

    Yet if mere peasants question the independence of such reviews they are painted as being too stupid to grasp the complexities of the issues involved, paranoid, or seeking revenge or indeed all three!

  • The jobs for the boys merry go round !!

    Mick check the Poll by OFMDFM £37,000 look who got it !!

  • Pigeon Toes

    “keep yourself out of trouble”

    Have you ever heard the expression “you can’t take the knickers of a bare a*se”?

  • Chronology is important – and so is cronyology. Sometimes patterns of behaviour can be found when you look at processes with apparently rather tenuous connections but involving some of the same players.

  • funnyold world

    At what point does being less than candid or “dancing on the head of a pin” to avoid giving a straight answer, become a deliberate attempt to mislead or withhold information?

    It seems to me that the fact that Peter Dixon sits on the Harbour Commissioners Board(appointed by Mr Murphy) ,and the Permanent Secretary omits to mention it, whilst at the same time trying to justify why there is no “conflict of interest” in appointing him to the Independant(?) Review Team at N.I.W is a perfect illustration of the point.

    Is it really acceptable that a Civil Servant can behave this way in responding to quesions from democratically elected MLAs?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Mainly “a lack of documented evidence”?

  • fow, the Permanent Secretary early on in the July 1 PAC proceedings was anxious to convey the impression that he was holding nothing back:

    “Mr Priestly:

    When I became permanent secretary, I was concerned about the Department’s oversight of Northern Ireland Water; I did not think that it was sharp enough. Let me be candid with you …”

  • Pigeon Toes

    Given that Don Price also sits on the NITB board, any dismissal may have had further implications for that organisation.

  • drumlins rock

    would love to know how many government appointed board members sit on multiple boards.

  • William Markfelt

    In the words of Mr Priestly

    “It certainly gives rise to a perception”

    So, a quick recap of our perceptions so far.

    DRD and NIW are caught by the short hairs?

    Priestly and McKenzie look shifty and economical with the truth?

    Members of the PAC who don’t appear to be the sharpest tools in the box still manage to make them both look dumb?

    It’s jobs for the boys?

    It’s a show trial?

    Questionable relationships?

    It will all be forgotten about in a few weeks and the suspects will get off scot free?

    Or promoted?

    The idea that the NIA is fit to govern is a joke?

    The idea that NI government departments and quangoes aren’t routinely staffed by the old school tie network is now common knowledge?

    The idea that government departments and quangoes are routinely staffed by morons is now common knowledge?

  • William Markfelt

    ILEX have appointed four new directors.

    Without wishing to cast aspersions on the persons appointed, the two links are interesting reading in laying out how the circle of old pals appointments (former civil servants, bankers, etc) always end up on the merry go round of the gravy train. Keep it all in-house for those trained to a certain mindset.

    Perhaps this makes the relationships, based on two or three meetings, within NIW and various departments easier to comprehend.

    You scratch my NED appointment, and I’ll scratch yours.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Just looking at recent public appointments over the past few days, and we get an impression of how “incestuous” this all is
    “The appointment of two new Independent Board Members to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Board has been announced.
    Mr Frank Caddy and Mr David Russell have been confirmed as the new independent members. Mr Caddy will take up his position from 1 August 2010 and Mr Russell will take up his position from 1 November 2010. The appointments will initially be for a two year period but may be extended in further defined periods by agreement…..He is currently a Belfast Harbour Commissioner, chairman of Portaferry Lifeboat Group ( RNLI) and a Non-Executive Director of Phoenix Natural Gas Limited and Portaferry Regeneration Ltd.”

  • William Markfelt

    I could have made a snide remark about him being exceptionally well qualified to understand farming and the needs of farmers, but then I remembered that you only need an ‘exceptionally limited knowledge’ to qualify for NED positions.

    Is that ‘independent’ as opposed to ‘party stooge’?

    And what’s this about ‘further agreed defined periods’? Doesn’t this open endedness really piss all over the concept of a proper appointments process?

    Oh, hang on a moment. I note that one public body has already rubber-stamped the extension of contracts for another year following a meeting of their board. Obviously the concept of fixed term contracts means jack in the twilight world of the public servant.

    I mean, does this rubber stamping exercise represent best value for money? How might the board in question look if, subsequently, we discover those in possession of the contracts totally ripped the arse out of it in the extended period?