NI Water: On the Chinese walls between DRD and NI Water…

Today is the deadline for DRD to get the text of the first two drafts of the IRT’s report requested by them at the PAC meeting on July 1st. It will then be up to chair Paul Maskey as to whether he chooses to share it immediately, or hold off until the next committee meeting in September.

If/when it does finally emerge, we’ll be checking the text carefully for significant changes between v1 of 15th February and v2 18th February when the Permanent Secretary set in motion the necessary means to sack the NEDs.  And, in particular, the section quoted by the Minister when he announced the sackings.

In the meantime, BelfastJJ has the first FOI product up on his Politics NI blog around the appointment of the new interim directors.

It’s as intriguing for what the Department appears to have redacted as much as what it tells us. They block out the names of people who were considered ‘applicants’ but who didn’t get the post (we still officially have no idea who was on their long list).

He also finds that the direction from the Minister (via his Special Advisor Stephen McGlade) was not to announce the names of the new interim NEDs until a day or two prior to the PAC meeting on July 1st. The obvious conclusion being that the Minister wanted to give the PAC as little foresight of his decision as possible.

There is an interesting conversation in which Gary Fair whose email gives the impression that confirmation of political interests/involvement were not received until after the appointments were made. But this is rebutted sharply by Lian Paterson who says “they have all satisfied the conflicts of interest questioning at interview”.

She also questions why Fair, the Department’s point man on NI Water (‘shu’, we presume is a short hand reference for the Shareholder Unit), is pushing the job on to Mark Ellesmere who is head of legal at NI Water. Then Fair comes back to her confirming that the ‘political questionnaires’ have yet to be completed, and points out that they are needed “to keep all of us right”.

Nothing earth shattering, or necessarily wrong here. But indication, perhaps: 1, of a casual elision in the institutional walls between the Department and NI Water; and 2, a general haste in trying to get the new appointments over the line.

Stand by for more…

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  • McKavanaghs

    Forgive a new starts ignorance on the detail of all of this, but what is the worst case scenario for the NIWater, the DRD and lest we forget them, the tax paying public?

  • Cynic

    I don’t agree Mick. There is one thing wrong.

    The questionnaire should cover both conflicts of interest and political affiliation. Its proper to cover any conflicts of interest at interview (eg business relationships) but the panel should normally not have any information at all on political affiliation / activity. It appears that this isn’t the way this panel was conducted.

    And just what was the PUS’s discussion with the Minister while the search for NEDs was still going on. Just what was discussed / agreed and when and by whom? And how did the officials know that some NEDs were agreed before the submission to the Minister was even written? And how was that fair to at least one candidate who was above the line but not recommended by the PUS? It appears he/she was rejected before the Minister decided?

  • Cynic

    “what is the worst case scenario”

    Let me see:

    * the contractor maligned by the Department sues for breach of confidentiality and defamation
    * the unfairly maligned NEDs sue for breach of contract and defamation
    * candidates unfairly not selected as NEDs sue for discrimination
    * key staff in the Department and the NIW executive team are tainted by the process and resign or are fired
    * someone then actually holds the Minister to account
    * lawyers get rich
    * NIW continues to flounder because everyone’s eye is off the ball
    * the service to consumers then suffers
    * we all pay the bill for the Government’s incompetence
    * Conor is damaged by the shambles (even though its really not his fault) and never gets to replace Gerry

  • “the ‘political questionnaires’ have yet to be completed”

    How could this be? The independent accessor was from Felicity Huston’s office.

    Have the DRD top brass retired to the bunker? Their Weekly Business Review eased back to about once a fortnight in February and the last published minutes are for June 18. The agenda and minutes for the July 2 meeting and any subsequent meetings have yet to appear.

    May 28 minutes:

    Water Reform
    It was noted that the work of the Water Stakeholder Group was ongoing.
    Lian advised that a meeting with NIAO had taken place in respect of the NIW Performance Audit.
    Although a PAC hearing was scheduled for 1 July there was still no NIAO report available.
    Information Office
    Anne updated WBR on recent media issues. She advised that an improved Media Monitoring System was now in place.

    Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the ‘Procurement Monitoring System’.

  • Drumlin Rock

    The worst case for some is that NIW returns fully to DRD control and any chance of selling if off to clear some debt may not be realised.
    The worst case to others is that the DRD including the minister have made such a hash of it that it must be sold off to.

    Take your pick, both are still in play and it will depend on where the buck stops, unfortunately the rights and wrongs of privatisation will get sidelined.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Mick, I mentioned on the other thread, were all 4 new NEDs appointed after a robust interview with an agreed marking criteria, or were one or more appointed after merely a “conversation with a purpose” at a later date?

  • McKavanaghs

    @ Drumlin and Cynic

    So its in or its out but either way its going to cost the taxpayer a lot more money. Kind of makes me wonder why they tampered with it in the first place .. oh yeah, privatisation.

    Another thing that puzzles me is Peter Bunting taking a post as a NIW NED, as it appears to have placed him in a bit of a corner.

    If water charges are implemented how will he square the remit of his job with his often stated opposition to them?

  • Cynic

    “Kind of makes me wonder why they tampered with it in the first place”

    Not privatisation ……fear

    “If water charges are implemented how will he square the remit of his job with his often stated opposition to them?”

    Perhaps his ‘conflicts of interest’ form may answer that but as a Director of a company he is bound in law to act in the interests of the shareholder ie the Department.

  • McKavanaghs

    Fear ?

  • Adding another Letter – this time from Antoinette McKeown Chief Executive of Consumer Council who writes to the PS Paul Priestly on the !! 22nd June !! asking about the interim board and sharing her concerns about public confidence & appropriate levels of accountability ?

    Little does Ms Antoinette McKeown know interim boards members had been appointed on the 16th June !!

  • Pigeon Toes

    Lets not forget that DRD will use taxpayer funds in defending any civil action.
    They are likely to send the following response to those pursuing this action
    “Should proceedings be instituted, the Department shall vigorously defend its position. It shall also seek to hold you personally responsible for all costs and expenses incurred by it, howsoever arising out of or resulting from its defence.”

  • Mick Fealty

    Is the 16th confirmed somewhere in your emails JJ…

  • Pigeon Toes

    Think date refers to the above email…and the need to be discrete (sic)

  • Pigeon Toes

    JJ have they given any reason for the redaction within those other emails released?

    Surely those could be released with just the identifying details redacted.

  • Mick Fealty

    That does not read conclusively to me.

    “Laurence may or may not be in a position to make a decision by then”. But a decision on what? On the face of it though it does look like they may have chosen three out of the four by the 16th. But of itself, it’s not conclusive.

  • Pigeon Toes


    “That does not read conclusively to me.”
    That missing sentence may be crucial, as may also the rationale for redaction

  • Hi Mick i’m uploading another email from Mr Patterson to Mr Fair which is a reply to email 3 which is up and dated the 16th June

    Wait till you read this

  • No which is against the FOI Act – of course i’ve asked for a review and under which exemptions the redactions are under.

  • Mick the email is directly under Mr Fair’s email or number 5

    Dated the 16th 21.45

    I did tell K & L to be discrete. But i will email them tomorrow and emphasise this in case they think once they get their letters its open information.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Scare tactics…..

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, they cannot be waiting on McKenzie, because he would have no role in choosing the interim NEDs. My guess is that they are waiting on some other decision there.

    It also makes McKeown’s sub rosa intervention interesting, not least since the Consumer Council seems to have been so quiet on the whole issue.

  • McKavanaghs

    Indeed, I have stood at rallies where his emphatic cry, bellowed out for all to hear, “Don’t Pay Water Charges”.

    Perhaps he had his fingers crossed, behind his back, where no-one could see.

    Either way, I have absolutely no doubt that it *will*, as you say, come back to haunt him.

    Question is, will he give a damn?

  • drumlins rock

    Stop Press, new chairman of NIW appointed, Padraic White, formerly of the IDA, wife is s FF senator.

  • DR, that now gives us 6 NEDs, according to the DRD press release. Presumably that would mean three ‘unionists’ and three ‘nationalists’ to fit the Minister’s “community confidence” criteria.