NI Water: DRD had form in procurement issues…

Now, I imagine that the former Chair of NI Water Chris Mellor is not too pleased with his mention in this week’s Private Eye. Not least because it links him and his fellow sacked non executive directors directly to issues around procurement at time when the health regulator Monitor, of which he is currently the deputy chair, is looking at opening up procurement in the NHS.

The ‘Eye’ alludes to his sacking and PAC chair Paul Maskey’s remarks about the “shocking, indefensible and unacceptable” events before the committee on 1st July.

Yet, as our timeline demonstrates, the reality is the board was under investigation for its role in the procurement issues, before it had the opportunity to meet, consider and respond to Nicola Brennan’s internal audit (the fourth she’d conducted, but the first to identify procurement as a matter for concern).

Which is odd, to say the very least.

And, as Nevin points out, DRD had been up before another Committee beak (that of Regional Development) before over issues to do with procurement. Here’s Fred Cobain (Slugger’s Committee Chair of the year):

Although the report indicates that there was no evidence of manifest error in the award of the contract, the Committee has serious concerns that;

  • there was no clear and transparent evidence trail to support this procurement; and
  • the mistakes made and surrounding circumstances provided scope for misunderstanding and contributed to perceptions of wrongdoing.

The Department told the Committee that it accepts the report recommendations and that appropriate action, including training, is required to begin to repair the damage caused to public confidence in the public procurement process.

Considering the Department met with NI Water eighty times a year, NI Water’s problem with procurement seems to be of a piece with that of the Department’s own difficulties in getting staff to understand official departmental practice.

So, how come the board gets cashiered for not dealing with a problem upon which the Department gave them no time act?

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  • Pigeon Toes

    Mick
    Nevin also points out that despite promising to revisit that issue in early 2009, the CRD has not done so.
    Could that have influenced the more recent “cunning plan”?

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/regional/2007mandate/minutes/2008/081210.htm

    Of course that was a closed session and it was a pre publication briefing of the IRT’s “findings”.

    “Rathlin Island Ferry Contract Investigation: pre-publication briefing.

    DRD Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly, the Comptroller and Auditor General John Dowdall, the Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General Louise Mason and Departmental official Stewart Matthews joined the meeting at 10.43 a.m.

    Members received briefing from the DRD Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly, the Comptroller and Auditor General John Dowdall, the Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General Louise Mason and Departmental official Stewart Matthews.

    Following a question and answer session with officials, Members thanked the DRD Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly, the Comptroller and Auditor General John Dowdall, the Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General Louise Mason and Departmental official Stewart Matthews for their briefing.

    DRD Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly, the Comptroller and Auditor General John Dowdall, the Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General Louise Mason and Departmental official Stewart Matthews left the meeting at 11.19 a.m.”

    I don’t think there were too many hard questions asked on that occasion, or since.

  • Cynic

    Don’t they all?

    There are major cases awaiting judgement in the Court of Appeal on the Department of Education’s award of school building contracts. The High Court ripped the Department apart and found that it had run a coach and horses through the rules on pre qualification of companies for a tender including changing the criteria after the bids were in! Rather than admit its wrong and look big the Minister has now appealed but looks certain to lose again at a cost of millions form the schools budget. So whose Irish Language School will be axed to pay the bill on that one?

    Still, if things look dodgy we can always call in PSNI. Except that there were a few little difficulties in the award of the last contract for security of Police stations. The incumbent company challenged the PSNIs decision to give the contract to another firm that was charging more for the same service. In the first instance they won hands down with the court identifying around 8 issues on which PSNI either broke the rules or ignored previous court decisions. The High Court then struck down the contract award and we seemed set for some interesting entertainment as the case moved to a full hearing but sadly the challenging company was taken over and the new owners strangely dropped the case.

    Then of course any trial would be heard in the Court where the Courts Service had a few little problems of its own. Are those senior managers still suspended?

  • I thought committees had a duty to hold Ministers and officials to account yet when I asked Fred on 23 September 2009 in Ballycastle when CRD was going to deal with the Rathlin investigations report he told me they were waiting for the Minister!!

  • William Markfelt

    ‘it had run a coach and horses through the rules on pre qualification’

    I wonder if we’ll ever get to the point where the pre-qualification routines of a certain local educational authority will be examined?

    The eventual ‘winners’ of an M&E contract got a heads-up of, ooh, several months on the criteria that would be required. Everyone else got, ooh, several weeks.

    You mention the PSNI, Cynic. I do recall that a company who supplied armour for vehicles challenged the procurement procedures and eventually won, if memory serves, about £1.2m in damages for the way it was handled.

  • William Markfelt

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4386694.stm

    £400k to one company, £500k to another, and just about a million ‘wasted’, regarding PSNI contractual cock-ups, not £1,2m

  • William Markfelt

    While poking around, I discovered this

    http://www.waterbriefing.org/new-report-highlights-suspected-contract-fraud-in-northern-ireland.html

    One interesting remark is that (in relation to that investigation [witch hunt?]) “When any public body received a report from an Internal Audit unit which indicated that key controls are inadequate, and there was repeated failure to apply procedures safeguarding against fraud and impropriety, this should be tackled with the highest priority within a short, targeted timeframe. There should be clear instructions about the handling of conflicts of interest and senior management must enforce zero tolerance of any perception of impropriety.

    All staff involved in procurement should receive regular awareness training on the standards in public life and guidance on gifts and hospitality should be re-issued annually.”

    I assume these various ‘guidelines’ aren’t just issued in relation to just one department or agency, and that the findings are shared around.

    What impact might those ‘guidelines’ have in relation to NIW’s internal audit (or lack of one, or apparent lack of a discovery of any problems)?

    A short, targeted timeline? What, as in find the scapegoats first, then get a clearly partial investigation to fit?

    Stitch up a few NEDs, then make the investigation match that deliberation?

  • Cynic

    As I recall that too was subject of a criminal inquiry that seems to have disappeared. Still no doubt the Policing Board are keeping closely in touch with that one and we can rely on them to expose any wrongdoing.

  • Cynic

    My William you do seem to know some interesting people

  • William Markfelt

    I find them ‘interesting’ only on a Steve Davis level.

  • Mick i’m just watching the PAC meeting via slugger and i noticed Lian Patterson comments ( 0.54.13 ) when she states the interims were only appointed this week – very strange when emails point to the 16th June !!

  • The Impartial Observer

    Sorry to change subject here but I’d like to make people aware of a imminent major fiasco in the Planning Service.

    Anyone who has been following it’s fortunes recently will now of the new IT system e-Pic which was to have been introduced in 2006 but had to be pulled at the last minute because it was discovered that among other things planners had no capability to do site reports!

    So 4 years and the best part of £20 million later they have begun installing it in the Belfast Office. I’ve been reliably informed by friends who work there that the office has been at a virtual standstill since installation began in late June. In the last month the office has issued a grand total of 2 decision notices and they couldn’t produce the schedule of planning applications being taken to Council.

    I’m also informed that senior management were told that e-Pic wasn’t ready and needed more work but they ordered the installation to go ahead, probably because the contract with the current IT provider runs out in the autumn. A

  • The Impartial Observer

    Sorry about the interruption!

    At the same time Planning Service is planning to redeploy or make redundant 270 staff in the coming weeks, add to this an unusuable computer system and the planning system could well be in meltdown by the autumn!

  • Mick Fealty

    Good spot JJ!! Another question for the barrel.

  • Another good spot in tonights Belfast Telegraph

    Which HAT does Mairtin O Muilleoir have on when he writes this Article ?

    Citizens all knee Mr O Muilleoir says because of NIwater we’ve the cleanest water in Ireland – so how clean is it compared to the rest of the UK Mairtin ?

    http://twitpic.com/2bw2ts

  • Mick i think this picture doesn’t help Ms Patterson either http://twitpic.com/2bwqlo

  • Pigeon Toes

    Did a “conversation with a purpose” take place just prior to this?
    “As part of its groundbreaking New York-New Belfast conference on 9-10 June 2010, the Irish Echo/Belfast Media Group is launching the Belfast Ambassadors initiative”

    http://newyorknewbelfast.com/?page_id=260

  • PT, I can see no sign of Lian Patterson or Conor Murphy but Paul Priestly was there – along with some others with a DRD connection who’ve featured in this NIW debate.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “It found that it had run a coach and horses through the rules on pre qualification of companies for a tender including changing the criteria after the bids were in!”

    I understand this also happened in the above case.