NI Water investigated by the Information Commissioner…

With mounting evidence of misdirection of process, and DRD being turned upside looking for hidden emails, Martina Purdy speaks to the Information Commissioner:

“…any attempt to thwart that process or to have any interference in that process I think is a very serious issue and subsequent to the information I received I expressed my views on all of that to the Head of the Civil Service.”

So that’s an investigation inside DRD and now another one inside NI Water on the basis of information received. It’s hardly any wonder there is what the Minister refers to as a ‘whispering campaign’ going on… But, he says:

“None of that changes what was actually the issue here. The issue here was that there were 78 odd contracts going out of NIW worth £28.5m that could not be stood over. The people charged by me with protecting the public interest in NIW’s affairs were held by me to be accountable and I took appropriate action.”

Now if you have been following this story here on Slugger, you know my view of the £28 Million… It’s possible that the Minister still does not properly understand what that procurement bundle contains, since there is little expertise still left in NI Water to understand the complex accountancy associated with tendering.

Slugger understands that some of these contracts go back as far as 1999, with the department paying 1999 prices… Retendering would result in the department playing 2010 prices…

Now, I agree with those like Chris who argue there is an equality of opportunity cost to keeping on Single Tender Action contracts beyond their original term (which is contrary to the rules of the Green Book), but so far as the cost implications are concerned, you simply cannot know whether they comprise a positive or negative value until you open them up individually and examine them carefully one at a time

The irony is that if Priestly had had the courage to advise the Minister that he should just sack the NEDs McKenzie felt he could not work with (which I suspect, but don’t know, was Bruce Robinson’s advice), they would have had to go without a cheep… It would have prevented this whole sorry mess from ever becoming the public scandal it’s become…

  • Pigeon Toes

    Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure.
    77. (1) Where-
    (a) a request for information has been made to a public authority, and
    (b) under section 1 of this Act or section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998, the
    applicant would have been entitled (subject to payment of any fee) to
    communication of any information in accordance with that section,
    any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces,
    blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the
    intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the information
    to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.
    (2) Subsection (1) applies to the public authority and to any person who is employed by,
    is an officer of, or is subject to the direction of, the public authority.
    (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a
    fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.
    (4) No proceedings for an offence under this section shall be instituted-
    (a) in England or Wales, except by the Commissioner or by or with the consent of
    the Director of Public Prosecutions;
    (b) in Northern Ireland, except by the Commissioner or by or with the consent of
    the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

  • Well i’ve just sent an email to DRD this afternoon about information being omitted from a recent FOI reply without a valid reason ( in fact NO reason )

    And i’ve also lodged a complaint a couple of weeks ago in relation to emails in which Staff are being Cryptic, in my view to get around the FOI Act !!

  • William Markfelt

    ‘The people charged by me with protecting the public interest in NIW’s affairs were held by me to be accountable’.

    All well and good, but we hear that they were sacked for not dealing with an issue they hadn’t been told about.

    The Minister is sticking to a line (for now, history tells us that the line may be turned on its head in the next 24 hours), but it still doesn’t address the issue of their not knowing about a procurement problem. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this very important detail and explain why he sacked people for not dealing with an issue hidden from the NEDs view.

    A hunch, but I suspect that the ICO’s investigation may have been launched as a result of a complaint by one of the sacked NEDs, with Declan Gormley a prime candidate, given his vocal denials of wrongdoing. I suspect that he (or one of the others) in tandem with the UTV team, would have been fully aware of information, intended for inclusion in the programme, but found it to be not forthcoming, and were able to approach the ICO from a position of knowledge and strength, rather than suspicions.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘in my view to get around the FOI Act !!’

    I would suggest that training seminars to instruct FOI officers how best not to provide ‘I’ does not result in an enormous amount of faith in departmental co-operation with the intent of the Act.

    Neither does the ‘vexatious’ get out clause.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Maybe the minister can tell us:-
    A. what period these 78 contracts date back to.
    B. were the alleged “infringments” likely to have resulted in different contractors being appointed.
    C. how many, if any “infringments” were the sacked NEDs aware of.
    D. has the same rigourous level of investigation been applied to Translink, Road Service, Port of Belfast, Etc.
    E. did he meet the IRT and scrutinise thier finding

    anyone else want to add to questions to the minister?

  • Mark McGregor


    I’m encourtering some FoI difficulties myself at present.

    mick had talked about doing some training on this and other legal issues a while back, I’ll have to chase him

  • William Markfelt

    In an affair of unprecedented gravity (post devolution) for the voters of whatever you wish to call it, does the statement in the link compromise the position of the Chairman of PAC?

    Such a statement, in my opinion, infers that Maskey now pre-empts the decision(s) that PAC may arrive at. Is it correct that the chairman of PAC appears to shrink into party solidarity?

    Much more worryingly, it also also begs the question…is Jim Allister right????

  • Pigeon Toes

    I think there is a difficulty with him being the Chairperson of the PAC.

    Will it be suggested that he stand aside from that role until such times as the PAC delivers their conclusions

  • William, the chair of a Statutory Committee is from the ‘other side of the house eg DUP led DCAL has a SF committee chair; SF led DRD has a UUP committee chair.

    PAC is a Standing Committee so IMO the SF Chair should step aside when PAC is investigating a matter pertaining to a SF minister.

  • William Markfelt

    It’s a remarkable statement, given his role in the PAC, to provide such a statement.

    It’s almost lemming-like, as one figure after another seems to attempt to throw themselves over the cliff by compromising their respective positions through…stupidity?

    Right now, Maskey needs to reconvene PAC, rather than babbling.

    If the DRD committee are managing to reconvene early (i.e tomorrow, Friday) as a result of this week’s events, then why aren’t PAC (through the chair or vice chair) doing the same? Aren’t PAC taking the matter of departmental difficulties seriously? Or seriously enough?

    Given the speed at which events are moving, PAC are lagging, and appear to be sitting with their thumbs up their arses.

  • I’d be interested that – cheers Mark

  • William Markfelt

    You would have thought so, Nevin. I’m reluctant to party politicise the issue.

    It’s rapidly becoming evident that, in a relatively new, learning ‘parliament’, the members need to learn or understand that some issues transcend party politics.

    They need to understand, or be made to understand, that the matter affects all of those they claim to represent, the populace, as opposed to just the respective party faithful.

    The Vice Chair of the DRD committee has called for a meeting, and looks like she has a quorum.

    Why isn’t the vice chair of the PAC doing the same, regardless of what the Chair is saying?

    It seems like a sort of ‘circling the wagons’ here. I do believe that it’s more than that that is at stake.

    Mr Murphy isn’t really in a bind. Minor errors of judgement, yes, but (currently) no more, no less. He doesn’t have many questions to answer, so what’s the deal with a statement in advance of any PAC discussion of the matter?

    So it doesn’t strike me as necessary that the chair of PAC needs to go into bat for the minister. The emphasis remains on DRD civil servants and NIW management.

  • Sam Flanagan

    Have the “body language experts” been let loose on the video clips of Lawrence “I cannot tell a lie” McKenzie being questioned by the commitee?

    This may interest you, I saw a large banner outside the Valley Lesiure center earlier tonight advertising a special worldwide premier of a comedy show titled “Stormont” at the new theatre in Newtownabbey.

  • William, I’m told the PAC Vice-chair is currently on holiday.

    I’m taking a different approach to some others; I’m looking at all the key players as well as a few bit part players and reflecting on the various relationships. I’m also drawing on a well of previous actions by some of these players. The players are sometimes individuals, sometimes entities.

    MLAs are mostly caught in the party loyalty trap so structures need to be put in place to minimise its worst effects.

  • William, I’ve seen some material online recently that was electronically redacted – a black band was placed in front of the requisite phrases on a pdf file. Switch to text – and the black band disappears leaving said phrases exposed!!

  • Doire_Abu

    The Chair of the PAC cannot be any way independent in any investigation of this business. He has clearly given his judgement, so how can he take any unbiased role in anything that rolls out from here on. He has clearly indicated that he sees his role as giving fulsome support to his party colleague, the DRD minister, and not as an independent arbiter protecting the best interests of the people of NI.

  • Why did DRD mislead The Consumer Council over NIwater appointments ?

    Just spoke to the Consumer Council – the game is a foot !!