NI Water: Board prevented from acting on contents of Internal Audit?

The Coalition government at Westminster clearly attach great public importance to Non Executive Directors on Departmental Boards. On his appointment as lead Non Executive Director to the Government, Lord Browne of Madingley laid out this description of the role of NEDs to departmental boards:

“This is a role within Government but also independent of it. Its purpose is to assist in the delivery of policy using relevant experience from business. There is a great need for the best of the business community to be involved during these challenging times for the UK.”

Hmmm… Anyone reading the debacle inside NI Water/DRD should be well warned that is not the way it works right across government. And certainly not in the case of Northern Ireland Water, where the non executive directors appear to have been treated as wholly owned chattel of the Department for Regional Development.

Now, before anyone goes all soft and sentimental it should be noted from the outset that non executive directors lead a precarious life. They are generally employed (and handsomely reimbursed) for their variety of experience and their willingness to speak hard truths to the management of the company they are employed to keep oversight on.

But ultimately their continued existence on the board is, quite rightly, in the gift the shareholder.

And in the case of Northern Ireland Water, a Government Company, there is only one shareholder: the Department of Regional Development. In this regard Mr Priestly, the Permanent Secretary, was always perfectly within his rights to recommend to his Minister Conor Murphy that he dismiss the whole board because he was displeased with their general performance.

So in that respect the actual sacking of the four NEDs is not the issue at play here. Rather it is the precise manner in which they were sacked that is of public interest, if the Northern Ireland Civil Service expect to continue drawing upon the talent and expertise of the private sector.

Back in March, Pete was prompted to ask whether this was “an attempt to deflect criticism from the Department itself?” And this remains the primary question hanging over this story. Of course it cannot be completely answered until the Department begins to respond to the FOI requests it has received in the weeks since the Public Accounts Committee sat on this matter.

But there is enough information already in the public domain to suggest the Department has been a great deal less than above board in the way it discharged its duties with regard to NI Water. Okay, preamble over. So, why is this a story?

There is no doubt there has been a serious problem with the way the company has handled its procurement processes. But put in context, it still has a 96% compliance rate.  Indeed at the beginning of this ‘crisis’ in September, the Department for Finance and Personnel awarded NI Water Exemplar status for their procurement practice.

If you examine the timeline, at first the problem is handled appropriately within this downbeat frame of reference. The Board is appraised of a process issue on the 27th October but it is not flagged to them as a serious issue nor are they informed by anyone in Laurence McKenzie’s management team that there is anything specifically to do with procurement.

In fact, nothing much happens until Nicola Brennan sends her audit report to McKenzie (who during this time has been appraising his friend Peter Dixon of his difficulties with staff) on 12th January. Within three days McKenzie calls a meeting with his senior management team.

Three days later on Monday, 18th January, McKenzie circulates a summary report to the Board (i.e., a two page email) and later that morning to the Chief Accounting Officer (ie, the Permanent Secretary) in DRD. At 9-40am he tenders his resignation.

McKenzie’s resignation appears to be the fulcrum for what follows.

Up until this point, the auditing process had chundered on for months. During this period NI Water and DRD were in almost constant contact. And yet neither the Chief Executive of NI Water (Mr McKenzie) nor the Chief Accounting Officer (ie, Mr Priestley) of DRD saw fit to inform the Board.

The crisis mode only begins with Mr McKenzie’s resignation, such that the Permanent Secretary can – within the space of just twenty four hours – name the members of the Independent Review Team (including the Chief Executive’s friend Mr Dixon) and provide them with Terms of Reference that implausibly shoe-horn the Directors into an issue about which the Board of NI Water has still not been informed.

At a stroke – because the IRT is now sitting – the Board is prevented from acting on anything they might find within the internal audit by the time they get to discuss and officially respond to it on the Monday of the following week.

So why the haste? And why cut the Board out of the loop before they had had a chance to feed their opinions and views into the process?

In normal circumstances, a meeting would have been the first port of call, not least to ascertain the real attitude of Board to the issues raised by the internal report. And, then, and only then, decide whether the Board members were taking the issue seriously or not.

Now, look at the timeline around the publication of the IRT’s report:

    Monday 5th February – Paul Priestley confirms to NI Water’s Chairman that Peter Dixon and Laurence McKenzie had met on 15th January. The Permanent Secretary does not believe this brings into “question the independence of the review”.
    Monday, 15th February – IRT submits the first draft (v1) of its report.

    Tuesday, 16th FebruaryMcKenzie accepts this (v1) draft of the report is factually correct.

    Wednesday, 17th February – After reading the first draft, at 8.30 Priestley writes to the IRT suggesting that they should not feel constrained by the (already Gerrymandered) Terms of Reference.

    Thursday, 18th February – At some point during the day, the IRT submits their second draft (v2). This is the report the Permanent Secretary refers to as the final report. And this is when Priestley tells the PAC he took action, even though the IRT continued to take submissions until the following Monday. DRD still has not furnished the PAC with the text of these two early drafts.

    Friday, 19th February 2010 – Don Price complains in an email about “how the IRT [seem] determined to find Governance failures by the Board rather than working with the Board to ensure the necessary corrective actions”.

    Monday, 22nd February – Deadline for comments on submissions on v2 of the report.

    Thursday, 25th February 2010 – Final draft is published.

As ever, we await the arrival of those FOIs

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  • “The Board is appraised of a process issue on the 27th October but it is not flagged to them as a serious issue nor are they informed by anyone in Laurence McKenzie’s management team that there is anything specifically to do with procurement.”

    Would we not need to see the minutes of that October meeting before we can assess the significance of what was said by the contending parties? Do you know if these minutes have been requested?

  • Drumlin Rock

    Mick, what if any investigations or actions are ongoing atm?

  • “nor are they informed by anyone in Laurence McKenzie’s management team that there is anything specifically to do with procurement.”

    MacKenzie quoting from board minutes: “The chairman noted that in his view a success-fee arrangement of 6% on the value of the sum recovered was not unusual in a commercial environment.” He also claimed to have flagged up the single tender issue with Priestly and the NIW Chairman as soon as his antennae had gone up in August/September. … “At that meeting, I confirmed my intention of continuing to look at contracts to see whether there were others.”

  • Mick Fealty

    Which board meeting was this Nev? Does it relate to the IRT report?

    PAC has still to report. It has the option of recalling some of the prior witnesses and others who may wish to add their oral testimony to that collected on 1st July. Deloitte are checking the report which fed into the IRT deliberations.

  • Mick Fealty

    The minutes will only confirm what I’ve said here Nev. This is a tree, not the actual wood we are looking for. At this stage even the CE has no ‘earth shattering’ information to share with the Board.

    Even the IRT report doesn’t try to stick the blame operationally on the Board, since the chief accounting officer of DRD knows a great deal more about what was going on than the Board of NI Water.

    But even Priestley doesn’t know what’s in Brennan’s report until after 12th January.

    The real action only starts after McKenzie resigns. Then everything goes into hyper motion and this happens, as I say above, before the Committee even get a chance to meet and deliberate over what’s in the IRT report.

  • FOI Reponse from DRD re interim Directors

    Lets see what Mr Fair wrote – Appointment of Interims
    http://politicsni.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/appointment-of-4-interim-niwater-directors/

  • It’s the same report I referred to earlier viz October 27.

  • Mick, perhaps those October 27 minutes will give us a context as to why the action stepped up a gear in January. The quote from the minutes and the CEO reaction suggest that a majority of the Board either didn’t want to know about the procurement issues the CEO raised in August/September and at the October board meeting or didn’t want ‘outsiders’, eg DRD officials, poking their noses in.

  • Mick

    I see your thinking. But at this stage we are taking about issue on one contract (that is now subject to a civil action). The first evidence of a larger problem is noted in the Internal Audit report on 12th January. An audit which had been ongoing since September.

  • Dates on those documents would be helpful. I’m struck by the apparent absence of MÓM from the email exchange as well as by the name P(eter?) Bunting on the MÓM letter.

    The four directors names were announced on June 30 yet MÓM’s acceptance is dated July 1.

  • Mick, I still think those minutes might shed some useful insights into the triangular relationship involving the NIW Board, the NIW CEO and DRD (including the Minister).

  • sammymehaffey

    This is all double dutch to me as a casual observor. Is there any reason why you cannot all be more specific about the issues?

  • sammymehaffey

    maybe it is a secret.

  • Mick Fealty

    Not a secret Sammy. I am just not prepared to go beyond the information I have. I have suspicions of something bigger than we’re showing, but I am not going beyond what I can absolutely put hand on heart and prove.

  • Bart

    Interesting stuff .. I wait in eager anticipation that all will be revealed.

  • Mick Fealty

    Good work Belfast. I hope you have some others in.

    One of the more interesting details is the instruction from Stephen (who I expect is Stephen McGlade, the Minister’s SpAd) that he wants the announcement to be made just before the PAC, to be helpful to the Department.

    Nothing terribly surprising in that I suppose, but they clearly wanted a ‘good news’ event around a more problematic one. But I would not over-endow it with more than classic spin doctoring.

    Gary’s (I think this must be Gary Fair, head of the DRD’s shareholder unit) slightly cryptic messaging looks a bit strange (“Sorry, i’m being purposely cryptic”)… but then again, there’s not enough there to say anything more concrete about it.

    Mairtin’s letter looks like an above board admission of his conflict of business interests. Elsewhere he goes into much detail over his own political commitments.

    It might be good to try fishing a little closer to the correspondence between DRD and the Appointments Commission as to what led to this departure in official procedure.

  • Mick Fealty

    Why do you think that?

    I know that may sound blunt, but I would like to hear your reasoning. I have my own pet theory about that relationship but you have to factor in the reality here, which is that the key relationship is the one between McKenzie and Priestley, not McKenzie and the Board.

    Why? Because it was not in any way arm’s length. From early September, Priestly as Chief Accounting Officer is the line manager to McKenzie who is by that time a departmental Sub Accounting Officer.

    If you don’t get this then you are likely to be distracted by the Department’s a posteriori (ie, only from January 18th) focus on the Board when it is they themselves who are all over NI Water’s micro problems. Not the Board.

    The sequence of events is what’s important, not just the events themselves. This is one reason why I guess a lot of our readers are getting lost in this story.

    But believe me, it IS important!!

  • Cynic

    If this is all true I hope that the NED’s sue the backside off them for breach of contract and defamation

  • magnus

    Unless this differs from the norm, these are public appointments and there are no contracts as such, however the terms of appointment are one sided in favour of the parental department.

  • Mick Fealty

    Quite so. What’s puzzling then is the degree to which some felt they needed to go to find an excuse to sack the NEDs…

  • In my request i only asked about the appointment of the interim directors.

    No Mick its not about good news i’ll need to check the documents again but that email was on the 12/6/10 – in other words keep it secret until one or two days before the PAC meeting – therefore giving little or no time for PAC to arrange questions on the matter.

    As for Gary Fair – why was he being purposely cryptic it beggars belief

    I’ve now written to the department asking for a review as some documents have been redacted and they failed to tell me why and under what FOI cause.

    I also included this

    “I’d also like to express my disappointment and concern that there seems to be a policy at the very top of the department to encrypt emails to get around the FOI Act. This is highlighted by Mr Fair’s email to Mr Ellesmere in which he states “sorry, i’m being purposely cryptic” that now begs the question why was Mr Fair being cryptic and what did he have to hide.

    Further documents show persons being referred to by initials as to conceal their identity.”

  • Hi Mick/Nevin i’ve updated my blog pictures to include copies of some emails

    http://politicsni.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/appointment-of-4-interim-niwater-directors/

  • Mick Fealty

    Agreed on the keeping the questions to a minimum on the PAC.Another reason for a recall of Messers Priestly and McKenzie.

  • Drumlin Rock

    so is there more to it Mick or was it more a case of panic?

  • Thanks, belfastjj. Picasa web album is an easy format to, say, organise document images in chronological order. I’ve also used Flickr photostream and Scribd to store images and documents.

    http://bit.ly/dhWDYi

  • Mick, we don’t know which, if any, of the three relationships is key. The most intimate would appear to be that between the CEO and DRD.

    The DRD-Board relationship has been a festering sore since at least the arrival of Priestly in December 2007. Priestly’s intent to perform his role as accounting officer is countered by the Board’s minimalist co-operation approach. This relationship deteriorated further with the arrival of MacKenzie.

    MacKenzie: “One of the things that surprised me was a reluctance to engage with the Department; I was told from early on to keep it at arm’s length. I recall a non-executive colleague telling me to watch them. .. do not tell them too much. There was definitely a culture of reticence about telling the Department anything.”

  • Mick

    Panic wouldcover it I think. Not ruling out malice aforethought but seems unlikely at this stage. Seriously muddled thinking and misjudgement (that’s to say the very least about it).

    BJJ’s work shows the value of getting original material in the public domain. I have no intention of air punching on this one. We need everyone to follow their instincts on this one and then get out on the table so we can share insights.

  • Mick

    With 80 + face to face meetings between NI Water and DRD I would venture an educated guess that the of the Shareholder Unit in DRD, Gary Fair knew a great deal more than the Chair.

    Ask yourself too who appointed this Chair the previous CEO of NI Water, which is as Mitchel McLaughlin pointed out, very poor practice indeed.

    All roads lead back to the Department.

  • Drumlin Rock

    OK guys, this may be reading a bit much into it, but it sorta looks like MoM was a last minute addition to the 4 new NEDs, what was the Ministers role, was his oversight of the whole business robust enough? or did he just use the circumstances to his advantage. Buck stops at the top.
    Was chatting to a friend last night who knows one of the sacked NEDs, he said he strongly rejected the allegation, but my mate said, “sure there is no smoke without fire”, their reputations have been seriously damaged, they deserve a fair hearing at the very least.

  • Hi Mick i believe PAC are trying to recall them.

    Thanks Nevin

  • Pigeon Toes

    I agree.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “PAC has still to report. It has the option of recalling some of the prior witnesses and others who may wish to add their oral testimony to that collected on 1st July.”

    PAC has already refused Chris Mellor and DRD committee has also refused Declan Gormley the opportunity to give their version of events.
    Will they now break with convention, and does this now afford others that same opportunity?
    Will this set a precedent?

  • Pigeon Toes

    “The interview consisted of 7 sets of 7 questions with a pass mark of 28 and lasted 1 hour. Each sucessful Director’s salary is £18,000 for 2 days per month per year.”

    BTW, just in case anone asks?
    Though it could just be a “conversation with a purpose”.

    Call me simple/hysterical, but I assume that most conversations have purpose.

  • Pigeon Toes

    FOI does seem to be problematic….
    The following comes from correspondence released by CPD, but not er DRD when asked for same.

    Stunningly DRD , despite note releasing or informing the requester that this information had been withheld are now arguing the point that they cannot revisit the issue, as it is outside the two month time limit to make the complaint (On information that the requester did not know existed).
    Logic? Twisted?

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/28572565/CPD-DRD-Exchange-of-E-mails-in-October-2007-Concerning-First-Rathlin-Ferry-Tender

    “I am disappointed to note this e-mail. You believe that the adjustments to the scoring frame were minor. I
    have approved these adjustments and I am satisfied that the adjustments are fundamental clarifications of the
    competition criteria and that it was essential that this exercise was completed before opening the tenders. You
    now raise concerns that the requirement for explicit sub criteria has not been fully appreciated within the
    context of this competition?
    The integrity of the process is dependent on each member of the evaluation team being clear on the contract
    requirements and the evaluation criteria.
    Given your concerns under FOI I am surprised you now ask the question in your 3rd bullet point.”

  • magnus

    John Simpson’s piece in the Bel Tel provides a concise narrative which has internal consistency and external plausability. And Mr Simpson is a very shrewd man.

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/opinion/john-simpson/water-chiefs-in-at-the-deep-end-14889630.html

    But imho this is worth following as it is illustrative of NI corporate governance as practised in the public sector or rather its antithesis. Once NIW effectively became an NDPB the board simply became an agent/ rubber stamp/organ grinder’s monkey for DRD albeit well disguised in a plethora of paperwork, MOA,MOU,Letter of Governance etc.As currently operating in Northern Ireland a board is merely a device to create distance between a Minister/Department and criticism and if a board challenges the status quo then Department will unglove its iron fist.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Without trees, there are no woods…

    “A dense collection of trees covering a relatively small area; smaller than a forest; For chemical behavior purposes, trees in full leaf (coniferous or medium-dense deciduous forests)”

  • Pigeon Toes

    Good stuff.
    I wish you luck in attempting any kind of common sense response regarding redaction etc.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Error of judgement”

    Now where have I read that before, in a DRD IRT perhaps?;-)

  • Drumlin Rock

    so some of the new NEDs were appointed via an “ interview consisted of 7 sets of 7 questions with a pass mark of 28 and lasted 1 hour.” whilst other were appointed via a “conversation with a purpose” have I got that right?

  • Pigeon Toes

    But surely from the sequence of events, when the Board gave a vote of No confidence in Mackenzie is the farce?

    So the events prior to this ARE relevant, in that (and if) MacKenzie had no gripe with the Board members before Mr Priestly decided that he was going to back the CEO.

    “Laurence had been with the company for a couple of months; he had uncovered this and brought it to my attention and I was shocked when he did. He told me that he had resigned. I asked him the reasons why he had resigned, and I said to him: “This is foolish, Laurence; it is you who are uncovering this malpractice.” I assured him that I would take the matter seriously and that we would put in place an independent review that would quickly produce a report to get to the bottom of the affair.

    On that basis and with my agreement, he decided to try to withdraw his resignation. The board of Northern Ireland Water contacted me to say that it was minded to refuse to allow him to withdraw his resignation. I said that, if the board did that, I would get the Minister to get Mr MacKenzie kept on the board and that Mr MacKenzie could not be allowed to resign.”

    Which was awfully NICE of him.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “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.”

    So why was KS being asked to submit a “more detailed CV”, if the interviews had already taken place?

  • Mick Fealty

    Hi again Magnus. I found this bit most interesting in John’s piece:

    “Six months later, Mr McKenzie, offered his resignation to the board. Then, just two days later, following support from DRD, he offered to withdraw his resignation. At that time, the chairman of the board of NIW advised that, in his opinion, the CE no longer had their confidence, and the board was minded not to allow the withdrawal. DRD told the chairman that it did have confidence in Mr McKenzie, and the resignation was withdrawn.”

    My understanding is that DRD had nothing to do with the withdrawal of McKenzie’s resignation. He took legal advice and was advised that as the Committee had not yet accepted it in writing, he could withdraw it.

    I agree with your description of how this mess worked its way out (McKenzie was not even told of this gerry built arrangement until his second day in post).

    I have to say, I find your version to be a more accurate description of the reality, which is why I suspect NI Water has become a pariah amongst those with the expertise to fulfil such an advisory/scrutinising role.

    It will interesting to hear what Lian Paterson might have to say in any recall given she told the PAC that NDGB status was originally for reporting purposes only.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Mick,
    Priestly said this at the PAC.
    “Laurence had been with the company for a couple of months; he had uncovered this and brought it to my attention and I was shocked when he did. He told me that he had resigned. I asked him the reasons why he had resigned, and I said to him: “This is foolish, Laurence; it is you who are uncovering this malpractice.” I assured him that I would take the matter seriously and that we would put in place an independent review that would quickly produce a report to get to the bottom of the affair.

    On that basis and with my agreement, he decided to try to withdraw his resignation. The board of Northern Ireland Water contacted me to say that it was minded to refuse to allow him to withdraw his resignation. I said that, if the board did that, I would get the Minister to get Mr MacKenzie kept on the board and that Mr MacKenzie could not be allowed to resign.”

  • Mick Fealty

    That is interesting. But I think that is a sin of omission rather than commission. Mr Priestley knows exactly what the circumstances of the rescinding of McKenzie’s resignation were.

    If he was involved in ending the dispute over that resignation, I suspect it was NOT in his capacity as a senior civil servant.

  • Pigeon Toes

    In what capacity then was he advising/threatening the board?

    Alternatively was he not as candid with PAC as he himself suggested?

  • Mick Fealty

    ?

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry, I didn’t quite understand your question since Mr Priestley has no direct role with the Board. His relationship was with Mr McKenzie as Chief Accounting Officer and indirectly with the Board through Gary Fair as the Head of DRD’s Stakeholder Unit.

    In other words he had no means of intimidating them, only the means (on foot of recommendation by Fair) to sack them.

    As for candidness with the PAC, I refer you back to Mr Priestley’s “I thought I had that information with me” moment.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “The board of Northern Ireland Water contacted me to say that it was minded to refuse to allow him to withdraw his resignation. I said that, if the board did that, I would get the Minister to get Mr MacKenzie kept on the board and that Mr MacKenzie could not be allowed to resign.”

    He certainly seemed to give the impression that he did act with authority to overrule their decisions.

  • Mick Fealty

    Smoke and mirrors PT. I will happily be corrected on this, but there is no way he had the authority make them take it back. Had the Chair got the acceptance back in writing beforehand, we’d be talking about an ex CEO…

  • So thats who Gary Fair is !! bear with me

    I submitted my FOI to DRD Could you provide me with all documentation in relation to Four interim directors who have been appointed to the board of NI Water appointed by the DRD Minister.

    Reply from Mr Fair

    Your request is both broad-ranging and ambiguous and I would like to help to get the precise information you require. Section 8 (c) of the Freedom of Information Act requires a request to “describe the information requested”. Your request asks for “all documentation relating to 4 interim directors.” The term “all documentation” is not a sufficient description of the information you require, and I would be grateful if you would clarify more precisely what information you are seeking, in order to prevent nugatory work being undertaken by the Department…

    My reply

    all documentation relating to the appointment of the 4 interim directors ie emails/minutes of meetings / legal advice sought and gained / appointment process etc etc.

    I trust that clarifies things ?

    Reply from Mr Fair

    The FOI Act is designed to provide access to information and not necessarily documents. I would therefore still need further clarification on exactly what information you require. I attach a link to the ICO guidance to making requests below, which you may find helpful:

    My reply

    To be honest Gary i find this ridiculous i’ve never had any problems requesting documentation from any other public body or in fact any Goverment department.

    First line of the link you sent me states ( not that i need to know as i’m very familiar with the FOI act )

    You have a legal right to request any recorded information held by a public authority, such as a government department, local council or state school.

    I assume documentation is recorded information am i correct ?

    As to help you understand the FOI Act this is from the ICO

    Q: What can I request under the Freedom of Information Act http://www.ico.gov.uk/Global/faqs/freedom_of_information_act_for_the_public.aspx#fA4236BFE-176B-4C39-8500-BC73EB7EE199

    You have the right to request any information held by public authorities. The Act allows access to recorded information, such as emails, meeting minutes, research or reports, held by public authorities in England, Northern Ireland and Wales and some authorities located in Scotland. Scottish public authorities are subject to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

    Now after that Gary can you confirm that my request will proceed or will i be forced to the matter up with the ICO – the choice is yours ??

    Reply from Mr Fair

    We genuinely would like to help you to obtain what information you require. However, as it stands you have only described a very broad topic and asked for ‘all documentation’ relating to that topic which covers a wide range of information held by the Department.

    You have stated that you are “very familiar with the FOI Act”, therefore you will be aware that if a request is too costly it may be refused, or charges may apply. We would like to avoid that situation occurring. Also the more information that we have to consider the longer it will take to process the request given that there may be some information that is subject to exemptions being applied etc. Therefore, I believe that it is both in your interest as well as the Department’s interest that you (to quote the ICO guidance) “be as clear as possible” and “try to pinpoint what you really want” For example do you want to know what the process of appointment entailed, or how the decision was taken etc.

    I would re-iterate that we are more than willing to discuss this with you to try to help your get the information you need.

    My reply

    I require the following

    1/ A copy of all legal advice sought and gained in relation to the appointment 4 interim Directors ?

    2/ Copy of any emails relating to the appointment 4 interim Directors ?

    3/ Copy of any minutes of meetings relating to the appointment 4 interim Directors ?

    4/ Copy of any letters relating to the appointment 4 interim Directors ?

    5/ Where any other candidates considered for the role of interim Director if so how many ?

    I trust this now clarifies my request ? if so please confirm by return email you’re proceeding with my request.

    No reply from Mr Fair – emailed again NO reply rang the department and then got this

    Gary Fair is on leave at present. I can confirm that we are dealing with your request.

    Barbara Faloona

    Now if one was thinking out loud – you’d almost think they were wanting to hide something or trying to stall the FOI request !!

    But surely not !!

  • Mick Fealty

    I think they have considerable leeway in interpreting a request as voluminous. But they can only do that, if there is genuinely a substantial amount of man hours involving in finding and collating that information.

    I have to appeal my first rejection on that same score, but I want to offer them a specific solution with the request.

    To do that effectively we need to find out more about how they actually store it.

  • Mick i agree with costs but is he for real ?

    “ambiguous”

    “The FOI Act is designed to provide access to information and not necessarily documents.”

    “However, as it stands you have only described a very broad topic and asked for ‘all documentation’ relating to that topic which covers a wide range of information held by the Department.”

    Funny thats what i wanted from the statrt -all documentation in relation to Four interim directors being appointed !!

    Funny they didn’t include the score sheets for the interviews !!

    Never mind a further FOI submitted today – including other documentation wonder is it recorded information !!

    Oh i’m uploading more emails of interest http://politicsni.wordpress.com/

  • Protocol for NEDs on Enhanced Departmental Boards. I wonder if there’s a protocol for NIW NEDs.

    “The time commitment is likely to be around two days a month, including one or two strategy awaydays a year.

    Departmental non-execs will be offered an honorarium which should not be more than that paid to Bank of England non-executive board members, currently £15,000 per annum.”

    Are NIW NEDs overpaid?

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t know is the honest answer Nev. I would think DRD strange behaviour has priced them out of the market for real NEDs.

    Why else would they have taken the guts of four months to get an emergency board which clearly doesn’t muster the necessary skill sets to manage a highly technical enterprise like NI Water?

    This is the really damning outcome of all these shenanigans.

    And if Magnus is right:

    “As currently operating in Northern Ireland a board is merely a device to create distance between a Minister/Department and criticism”.

    Then 15p is a massive overpayment, never mind 15k…

  • Cynic

    Mick

    These uploaded emails are fascinating and raise some interesting issues

    1 they called in a number of persons for interview as NEDs. Where did these come from? There was no public advert so where did they get the list.

    2 the process seems to have been somewhat interactive. One candidate in the first phase was ‘above the line’ but they wouldn’t recommend him/her to the Minister. Why not? They then went on to interview others to fill the gap.

    3 some of those didn’t understand the requirement to publish potential political interest and cover off conflicts of interest. Indeed, it seems that potential conflicts of interest weren’t even identified before the appointments were made

  • Cynic

    Grossly overpaid ….but then who would now touch this role with a barge pole. Indeed, the Department has made no moves at all to advertise the posts – expect to see these temporary board members in post for at least 3 years

    Where is the Appointments Commissioner . Has she challenged what is going on? Time for another FOI?

  • Pigeon Toes

    All records are supposedly stored on an electronic system named TRIM since 2007, though other Independent Reviews commissioned by DRD suggest that it is not being utilised properly, whether this is deliberate or bad training is open to interpretation
    “.TRIM is the primary repository for electronic records in DRD. It is accessible to all administrative staff each of whom is responsible for the management of records they place on the system. This responsibility translates to the application of best practise in record management whereby the life-cycle (from creation to destruction or permanent retention) and access to documents are managed in line with PRONI, NICS and DRD guidance and policies.”

    http://applications.drdni.gov.uk/publications/document.asp?docid=18945

    “In the day-to-day management of the system, IMU staff frequently encounter examples of bad practise in the naming of containers and or documents. Recent examples of this show individual users choosing not to process items for deletion but instead renaming items with titles such as “delete this” or “please remove”. There appears to be an assumption that someone – not identified in any guidance in the TRIM processes – is trawling the system for messages from staff. IMU conducts regular checks through which all examples of bad naming conventions are investigated. IMU will conduct monthly searches under known common terms and address the issue through Power User contacts. IMU will also conduct ad-hoc checks on the access controls of documents that appear to be personal or sensitive where/when examples of this are identified.”

    The difficulty here would be for anyone completing a trawl to answer a FOI request, if the information has been deliberately renamed.

    Some of the problems for DRD/NIW in the emails released to Belfastjj, are that entire sentences have been redacted, and experience has shown that practice allows potentially embarrassing phrases to be deleted under the guise of “personal information”.
    It’s sometimes helpful to draw attention to such “redactions” and request these with any identifying material removed. 🙂
    Experience would also suggest, that emails from DRD should be examined closely, especially i the context of sequencing. Sometimes there are huge gaps, in the correspondence and the “conversation” appears illogical , as if there emails missing. (Yet no redaction note).
    The Information Commissioner’s Office in Belfast is a very helpful resource. Unfortunately when the complaint reaches
    ICO in England, the quality of service and indeed logic diminishes IMO.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Alternatively, he was attempting to give the impression to PAC, that he was supporting Mr MacKenzie as a whistle-blower.

    Though the question remains why did Mackenzie offer his resignation in the first place?

    He seems to have done that without any discussion with Priestly.