NI Water: DRD kept their ‘demonstrable independence’ hidden from Commissioner

Yesterday’s written answer from the Minister of DRD to Patsy McGlone’s AQW will bring some disquiet, particularly in light of the aribitrary manner by which his department dealt with the last Board at NI Water.

What DRD understands by the word ‘independent’ is not something many people in business or the wider world would recognise. But this is DRD world, where ‘independence’ – it seems – is just a state of mind…

For example the minister tells us he received an agreement from Commission of public appointments to use ‘an emergency process’ to appoint an interim board on 24th March of this year. However, Slugger understands that that’s the last the Commissioner heard of it and the Department has been keeping her out of the loop ever since.

Here’s Murphy’s full response:

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister for Regional Development whether procedures in relation to the Code of Practice for public appointments were followed in the appointment of the new interim Board of NI Water.

(AQW 8472/10)

Minister for Regional Development: In circumstances where the Department had to move quickly pending the running of a full public appointments process I agreed to the Department using an emergency process to fill the four non-executive positions. The Department then discussed the proposed process with the Commissioner for Public Appointments (Felicity Huston) to seek her support to deviate from the normal appointments process.

The Commissioner gave her consent on 24 March 2010 to the Department’s proposed arrangements for the interim appointments, on the basis that there would be a demonstrable element of independent participation in the assessment process. Selection criteria for the four interim appointments were based on business and stakeholder needs. A ‘long list’ of potential candidates was drawn up and these individuals were contacted to gauge their level of interest. Potential candidates were asked to submit CV’s if they wished to be considered. Interviews or “conversations with a purpose” were then held by a panel which included an Independent Assessor. Recommendations were then made to me for consideration. [Emphasis added]

Yet, despite such assurances to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Slugger understands that the Minister subsequently kept her in the dark in respect of all stages of the process he has used to appoint the four new interim Non Executives to the Board.

And what of the ‘independent assessor’ on the interview panel? Well, who were they? And how can a process be demonstrably independent if no one who is genuinely independent can actually see (never mind oversee) the process?

So, who was in charge of the process? Who was on the long list? Who was shortlisted? Your FOI questions on a postcard/email to the by now overworked bods at the FOI office at DRD.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty