NI Water: Are the sacked NEDs owed an apology?

There’s been a spurious row going on about the status of the IRT report. As though somehow it was the critical factor in the sacking of the four Non Executives. It was an important weapon in the Permanent Secretary’s armoury, but it was not the reason the Minister sacked them.

The report does not recommend the sacking of the NEDs. It identifies tensions between the CEO and the NEDs. The Permanent Secretary (and not the IRT) recommended the Minister resolve that tension by sacking the NEDs.

There will be further pressure in the press on the one remaining element in that difficult tripartite relationship, NI Water, Laurence McKenzie including further evidence that he was far from honest in his responses to the PAC.

As we have been pointing out for weeks, there is no evidence of ‘wrongdoing’ on the part of the Board, even as the evidence of wrongdoing mounts on the part of those who benefited from their forced departure.

It can only be a matter of time before the Minister is compelled to do what I am sure he does not want to do (but surely has no choice over) and rescind the sacking of the four NEDs on the basis that he was misled by his most senior advisor.

As we have said before, the Department was entitled to sack the board for any reason they saw fit. But they were not entitled to gratuitously drag their reputations through the mire and gratuitously damage their career prospects…

And the Minister owes it to the new Interim Board as much to the wronged previous board to comprehensively clear up this mess, before NI Water assumes an irreversible pariah status…

Standby for some more awkward questions for those who should have been keeping a weather eye on NI Water from the outside, and who have clearly taken their eye off the ball in all of this…

  • McKavanaghs

    Short answer .. YES.

  • Yes

  • Oh yes, and quite possibly compensation commensurate with the suffering and humiliation they endured.

    What a mess.

  • On a side note in a document from Lian Patterson to Conor Murphy about the process of appointing the new NED’s

    It talks about a shortlist being drawn up by the panel which includes Mr Priestly – but more worryingly Laurence MacKenzie may be asked to provide input into the process.

    Why and did he have an input ? – was Mr Priestly trying to get the people Mr MacKenzie wanted to keep onside ?

  • McKavanaghs

    I would wholly applaud an unreserved apology but wouldnt welcome award of any compensatory package.

    Let us not forget that there are many NIW staff who have had to endure a massive deterioration of their working environment and a denial of their T&C’s, as a result of NIWaters conduct and actions since 2007 and all under the, supposedly, watchful eye of its board. But very few ever get a handshake, let alone a handshake and a pat on the back.

    So in the interests of those NED’s being treated no less favourably than any other member of NIW staff is, or should have been, I would say that an official and appropriate apology should be enough.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Are they owed an apology? Not yet but in the long run yes…..especially Gormley.
    But lets not forget this was a report into an organisation which was/is a disgrace. Their NEDs (AT THIS POINT!) being celebrated as martyrs is not easy to understand.

    Pass the sick bag, Alice.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘he was far from honest in his responses to the PAC.’

    Not the only one.

    The spotlight falls next on NIAO.

  • belfastjj, what is the date of that email from Patterson to Murphy please?

  • medillen

    There has been a far amount of axegrinders and agenda pursuers on this site for weeks some are fighting battles for others, (connections unknown Mick) some seem to have old scores to settle, whatever the motivation significant developments have occurred and some agendas may be advanced. But A VERY SIGNIFICANT WEEK ALL IN ALL. (caps hit by mistake)

  • William Markfelt

    There wont be an apology.

    There will be a statement saying ‘good faith in the info available at the time’, etc, etc, ‘in hindsight’ etc etc, but no apology or reinstatement.

    The current NEDs may be shoehorned in for the forseeable future, but the sacked ones won’t be back. Or get an apology that they will see as satisfactory but there will be a ‘line drawn’, etc etc.

  • William Markfelt

    Will that be enough. It seems to me this may be lining up as a classic wrongful dismissal, quite apart from any other aspect. I reallu am interested in knowing why this would not be the case.

  • DC

    The spotlight falls next on NIAO.

    This should be outsourced to Capita as well.

  • Just a few points

    Firstly there are a huge number of public sector influenced governance bodies in NI .

    The majority of these bodies, which have publicly appointed members, do not receive any payments whatsoever other than expenses (and largely these remain unclaimed).

    UTV and James Delargey recognised this (inferred from the presence of the IofD lady) and by inference asked the question : “What effect will the sackings have on business people who wish to participate in public life?” I don’t think the inferred question was addressed but I may have missed it.

    What was also missed is the fact that we have paid and unpaid governors and directors, in other words a two tier system of governance throughout NI in all our public bodies.
    By the way this causes resentment, big time.

    Both paid and unpaid governors and directors are awaiting the outcome of this contretemps. If arbritary justice, ie no justice, is seen to triumph then there will be a lot of unpaid governors resigning at the end of their term of office, and those receiving payment will be wondering is it worth it?

    You have to wonder how a solitary Perm Sec was allowed to open this can of worms? This goes to the top of the tree.
    Sometimes Bruce you just have to say no.

  • William, am I missing something?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I have no doubt there are many people who wish to serve the public and I fully understand that many do it without recompense……but it also has to be said that these people are drawn from (an arguably necessary) small pool of the usual suspects.
    The networking available is invaluable to those (few or many) who might see immediate financial recompense as the least of their ambitions.

  • ok the email is from Lian to Mr McGlade dated the 18th March which has the document attached to it – the date on the document is xx march 2010

  • William Markfelt

    Terms of engagement, Pip.

    I imagine that it’s very much a ‘we’ll dismiss you when we feel like new blood’ sort of contract, and DRD, via the minister, will use this as the basis of no case for wrongful dismissal.

    I’d need to trawl through the statements by various parties, but I do believe this has already been alluded to, and I fully expect that there won’t be a wrongful dismissal case.

    That’s not to say that there might not be other forms of legal action -defamation might be one- and again the minister alluded to that being ‘something they’d deal with at the time’. But all in all, probably not a wrongful dismissal case will emerge. NEDs aren’t employees of NIW, so do not have the same employment rights.

  • Mick Fealty

    What would you consider to be a tipping point?

  • William Markfelt

    Thanks, but Im suspicious that characters can be attacked in such a way and no recompense is possible? It just seems unfair, careers may have been wrecked.

  • Mick Fealty

    Med…

    I’ve never cared about connections. People should stand or fall on Slugger on one thing only: the strength or weakness of their argument.

    BTW caps lock is the big button below the tab… 😉

  • William Markfelt

    NIAO’s role needs to be examined in this, Nevin. They have been compromised, but are sensibly (from their perspective) keeping their heads down.

    It rather appears that they were stooges to Priestly in the ‘helpful if you met them’ aspect of this tale.

    I should clarify, reading back my original post, that I did NOT mean to infer that NIAO presented a statement to PAC in all of this. Just that their iffy role in being willing participants in a sham, or so it seems, does need examination.

    But I would add that NIAO aren’t wholly truthful in the papers they present to PAC. Whether this is the fault of NIAO, or civil servants deliberately misleading them, I wouldn’t like to say at this point, but the net result is the same. NIAO present flawed, skewed and untruthful ‘evidence’ in their reports to PAC, either directly or indirectly, the result of government agency laxity with ‘the truth’.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘careers may have been wrecked.’

    A process now so repetitive it’s part of the furniture.

    Examination of Hansard reveals several previous occurrences, and all built on foundations of sand.

  • William Markfelt

    Yes, you’re right of course.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘you’re right of course.;

    That’s open to debate, Pip. But I would be confident that open and transparent response to FOI requests would reveal that ‘economy with the truth’, in representation to PAC, is systemic.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘There has been a far amount of axegrinders and agenda pursuers on this site for weeks some are fighting battles for others, (connections unknown Mick) some seem to have old scores to settle, whatever the motivation significant developments have occurred and some agendas may be advanced’

    Beautifully said. Do you actually have a point?

  • Thanks very much, belfastjj

  • Drumlins Rock

    your right FJH, there needs to be a better more transparent method of recruiting to these boards, one that covers broader spectrum of the country, and not just former IDB and banking officials.

  • Baxter

    Mick, are you seriously calling for an apology before the true facts have been established?

    I have been watching the events unfold like everyone else and as I responded on your comment after the first Stormy Water expose, the one thing that concerned me was that you seemed quite convinced that the NED’s had done no wrong and subsequent comments seemed to build an argument that the £28m or so was ok to go untendered as there might not have been any cost savings anyway, regardless of the fact that it is absolutely against all EU procurment rules.

    I’m not arguing with what you have done with regard to exposing the scandal. But I do think that if you are opening a debate suggesting to a conclusion of an apology without the full facts it is just stoking the fire? And you have to ask why are the MLA’s involved in asking for reinstatment at this early stage without knowing the full facts of what went on?

    A quick search on google shows that the previous Chairman, Chris Mellor, was dismissed from a previous Chief Executive utility role for buying a business for Anglican Water against shareholder wishes that resulted in a substancial material loss in the multiples of hundreds of millions of pounds, and a second issue around financing that ending up with a unncessary bill to consultants and advisors of £120 million odd ! And a subsequent legal investigation into fraud into the nargain!!

    I’m no specialist researcher but already I am asking how on earth he got the job as Chairman in the first place. What genius failed to spot that one within the Public Appointments commission or whereever the blame lies?

    That scandal aside, how did they allow him to be appointed as stand in Chief Exec following the termination of the previous Chief Exec who walked away with a massive payoff, (that must have been approved by him and others in DRD) of close to £200k of tax payers money under a compromise agreement?

    Did the Commisisoner for public appointments approve Chris Mellor stepping in “as an interim appointment” thereby conveniently allowing it to very conveniently step outside of the basic appointment rules dispite his abismal previous Chief executive stint in Anglican Water? Funny how the rules aren’t really rules when it suits …..

    So clearly this is a guy that had a track record of completely ignoring governance principles to huge cost to his organisation and already had a severly tarnished reputation.

    Yet there are calls from you and others for apologies and all sorts? This bit doesn’t make any sense to me at all. None. It raises serious questions in fact and tarnishes an otherwise good expose.

    A quick look back over the last couple of weeks shows that every day almost there has been another new bit of information that changes the perspective. Say the Minister comes out next week and gives an apology as you seem to want, or better still, bows to the MLA’s requests for reinstament of the old NED’s. What will happen then?

    I assume, and hope, there will be a proper independant investigation. What happens if the outcome is the same? Surely the possibility exists the NED’s were negligent and should take the consequences? (It is worth noting that I don’t see any denials anywhere that it was ok to completely ignore the basic principles of governance). Has anyone asked any of the NED’s why they were so negligent in the first place?

    And if a new review says the same as the old review where does that leave you or the Minister, or the MLA’s? Do you not think that everyone’s reputation will just be tarnished?

    It seems you are hoping for the next independant review to come back with an entirely different set of findings. It might not. In fact it could unearth a lot more than the £28m, goodness knows where it could all end up.

    I have a real concern that if there is a new review, (as there should be), that set the terms of reference will be so tight that it will take the scrutiny off the Minister, the Board and Senior Management team and the unbelievable level of incompetence that seems to prevail in NIW to have a proper rattle at Paul Priestly, the Chief Executive and the IRT.

    I don’t know how this works but I would be keen to learn if there is a new review team, who will appoint them? OFMDFM? The Minister? surely not given the way he has appeared to have ignored basic process with the NED appointments. Who will scope of the remit? How can we sure there won’t be anyt sort of coverup or sop? Could someone please enlighten me?

    Like all of the tax payers in NI, I hope anything that happens from here on will be completely independant – and being honest, I hope that this whole sorry episode ends up with proper transparency, and proper approaches to procurement in every part of the public and voluntary sectors – procedures that don’t discriminate, not the sort of manufactured nonsense we have had for years here.

    In my view the level and cost of the use of consultants across the Public sector has long been a disgrace – quiet conversations where consultants are spoken to “off record” in advance to shape terms of reference that put themselves in pole position for tenders, assuming they came out in the first place!! or civil servants starting from a basis of putting things to tender as last resort prefering insead to keep initial amounts under the European thresholds and then just renewing existing contracts on a series of short term re-engagements to stop them going to open market – exactly what NIW seem to have been doing, and likely Translink and others too, and exactly the sort of process you Mick seem to think is ok.

    These are the real issues that need fundamental change – proper fairness, proper transparency, no more “boys clubs” – and I would much rather see you continuing your good work in that regard rather than jumping the gun asking for apologies when we don’t really know if they are deserved.

    And finally without siding with anyone, there are people involved on all sides of this – the old NED’s, the new NED’s, the key people involved in DRD, those on the IRT and in NIW, all with families and reputations – each one of whom have to sit quietly have to endure the media spotlight and gossip and rumour mongering until the full facts are established.

    The only winnners here at the moment are the media and I think this situation needs “calm waters” for a while until there is absolute clarity about what went on, not this type of sensationalism.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well. Two things. No, I was posing the question. Two, despite the official pretence that they are not, most of the salient facts are in the public domain. On Slugger O’Toole, in our reporting since early July.

    The basis on which the NEDs were sacked has been falsified over and over again Slugger. If you wish to post facto co-opt other reasons why the might have been sacked, it doesn’t make any difference to the fact they were shafted this time round.

  • wrylyamused

    Of course, there may(should) be 4 NIW NED vacancies arising in the near future; the recruitment of the new NED’s was on a temporary basis…

    According to the Commissioner for Public Appointments:

    “The following are examples of what may be considered as exceptions. This is not however an exhaustive list:
    • Emergency appointments
    • Extension of appointment term
    • Expert posts”

    According to the Equality Commission’s Codes of Practice:

    “Emergency Recruitment

    4.9 Emergency vacancies should be filled by way of contact with the widest possible pool of applicants.”

    “If a post MUST be filled without notice then every effort should be made to reach the widest possible pool of candidates. Informal methods of recruitment should not be used – it is not acceptable simply to call a friend or
    relative.”

  • Justice For NIW

    Baxter – sounding pretty preacher like at 2am, maybe its that extra glass of red wine?!!

    Chris Mellor made a bad business judgment, true. MacKenzie CHOSE to join the “boys club” for one reason only – he did not like the “old” Board and had set his sights on his “own” people.

    The best thing for NIW right now is for MacKenzie to step down. The majority of NIW employees believe it impossible to continue delivering the day to day job with him in the leadership role – aside from what his involvement in the IRT may or may not have been, MacKenzie’s leadership is autocratic. We remain with faith that Padraic White and his new non exec directors would also focus on healing the many wounds people in NIW have endured since the arrival of MacKenzie.

  • William Markfelt

    The NIAO are often the organisation who bring reports before the PAC (check Hansard for their appearances to confirm this).

    As we know, various departments have an ‘input’ into these reports. That’s fine, because the departments have a case to make. The ‘victims’ of these reports have no real sense of input, and are certainly not afforded an opportunity to ask for the rewording of sections so best to cast themselves in the best possible light, whereas departments DO have that facility to cast their ‘victims’ in the worst possible light and their own, often tawdry, work in the best light.

    Hitherto, the likes of PAC have swallowed this whole, and there has been little evidence that PAC have done much, if any, independent research of their own.

    Until recently, when Mr. McGlone, Mr. Dallat and Ms. Purvis began to demonstrate a level of independent thought in their line of questioning.

    And in key revelations there (the ‘helpful if you could meet them’ letter) NIAO became wounded, their indepedence expectations of accuracy seriously undermined.

    The Auditor General has a very great number of questions to answer on the NIAO’s role generally and in the NIW saga specifically.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘he did not like the “old” Board and had set his sights on his “own” people.’

    If McKenzie goes (and it’s almost certain he can’t stay), this leaves NIW in the position of having ‘his own people’ as NEDs, without being there himself to influence (?) his own people.

    What happens if the person replacing McKenzie doesn’t like the interim NEDs? Does he replace them with HIS own people?

    NIW are in a bind here. Replacing the interim NEDs just heaps more ridicule on an already ridiculous looking NIW. Keeping the interims risks their role in NIW being forever tainted (albeit that they can’t be regarded as being tainted by their own actions, just association with the ongoing scandal).

    If a new man at NIW does wish to wipe the slate clean entirely and start again, where on earth do NIW begin to look for NEDs? I’m sure there’ll be those of ambition who would like the job, but wouldn’t it be something of a poisoned chalice? Right now, anyone tossing in an application form is going to be under incredible media scrutiny for their ‘links’ to others or to politics.

    Given the nature of the old boys network, it could be that 90% of the pool from which NIW might wish to recruit is wiped out in one fell swoop.

  • McKavanaghs

    In my mind, it is the lack of a right to appeal which is central to the need for apologies to be issued. It should not matter what grade or position a person holds, everyone should be permitted access to the same levels of fairness and due process.

    If any other member of NIW staff, or indeed any other employee of any other company, were treated in a similar way I would expect their representatives, trade union or otherwise, to vigorously demand nothing less.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘no more “boys clubs” ‘

    Much sense and thoughtful input there, Baxter.

    I’ll challenge just one comment, that of ‘no more old boys clubs’. Anyone with expectations of that is pissing up a rope.

    While Wellington suggested that the battle of Waterloo was son on the playing fields of Eton, I’d suggest that if a nuclear bomb landed on the civil service and wiped everyone in it out, there would be old boys clubs formed on the putting greens of Belfast within weeks of a brand new staff being appointed.

    We can never get rid of the old boys’ clubs, the networking, the 19th hole relationships, etc, so there’s no point in going there. It rather makes more sense to put in place the mechanisms to scrutinise relationships, to reinforce ‘conflict of interest’ regulations and so on. Everyone involved needs to be made aware that improper relationships are a sackable, non-pensionable offence. Those checks and balances might encourage some (not even all, then) to keep their noses clean.

  • William Markfelt

    Is an ‘apology’ the foremost thing in the sacked NEDs minds, though?

    I’m not getting any sense of Declan Gormley seeking ‘apology’, He seems rather more interested in his reputation, rightly so, and would settle for an acknowledgement that he never, at any time, did anything wrong.

    No amount of grovelling apology or even cash compensates for that. A simple acknowledgement, in a very public way, might be a satisfactory result.

    I know that, in the same position, I’d settle for full page adverts in the local papers acknowledging no wrongdoing, and waive any claim to ‘compensation’ That would be the compensation.

    Of course, I might reasonably expect to make a draft myself of the words, before handing it over to DRD/NIW to knock it into their own style, etc.

  • Baxter

    Mick you state again ‘the fact is they were shafted’ . All I am saying is there is clear evidence of wrong doing- a complete disregard in that organisation for any governance principles around major elements of procurement. I don’t think anyone is disputing that. Given that, they were negligent. They get paid handsomely to govern. They didn’t do that. They weren’t up to the job it would appear. I dont want to get into a protracted debate about it but you see it as ok to ignore the rules. I don’t. That’s the difference. You are clearly in the sacked NED’s camp and I think given your ongoing role in exposing and commenting on this you should remain open to
    seeing the debacle from several perspectives. I hope that doesn’t sound like a personal criticism , it’s not meant that way.

  • sledger

    McKensie will surely have to go. Can anyone imagine the scene when he sits round a table for a rational, serious debate with an industry regulator who he has referred to “Wee Dangermouse”!!!!!
    Its one thing saying these things in private, as we all have done, but to have it broadcast on TV thats a different proposition altogether.

  • The majority of “these people” are to be found on school governing bodies.

  • Baxter

    Justice for NIW, don’t drink red wine so that’s not the excuse!! I just took the time last night to read through the last few days events and just felt that the debate is now ingoring the real issue, thats all.

    I agree his position is now untenable.

    I don’t see how you can say on balance the new board is any better than the old one, in fact they have a lot less experience of the situation and will likely be more inclined to do what the Minister wants rather than what is right for those in NIW and more importantly the tax payer. So I wouldn’t get too exciting about Padriac White and Co being knights in shining armour just yet!

    Any anyway they are only interims so permanent appointments will follow. If a proper independant search was undertaken for NED’s of the right calibre i doubt the new set would even meet the basic criteria.

  • Baxter

    McKavanaghs
    Non-executive directors do not have the same employment rights as employees. They can’t have. They are appointments with no long term contractual right. They don’t have all of the usual employment rights and can and should be terminated if they have not fulfilled the job they are there to do – to ensure effective governance on behalf of shareholders.

    In the real world there is a vote of no confidence by shareholders, vote is final, has to be. That’s life. They are paid very well for that role and thats the risk they take. They weren’t forced to take these jobs on.

    If the argument is that they haven’t been treated fairly, I would accept that only if they had asked all the questions about the day to day practices around expenditure and were in some way obstructed / misled by employees with the information they were given. They failed to ask the questions.

    The reality is they didn’t know what was going on. They should have made it there business to satisfy themself that the basics of governance were in place. That is their responsibility. They didn’t fulfil that responsibility and were negligent in that regard. They have learnt the hard way.

    And if they are asked to undertake a NED role again in the future you can bet your life they will fulfil it properly next time around and ensure governance is in place!!

  • Baxter

    William
    Declan Gormley didn’t do the job he was being paid to do in my view. From day one he takes the same legal responsibilies as other directors. He should have satisfied himself that governance was being followed. He didn’t. Maybe because he didn’t have experience of utilitities or really understand that type of procurement or was just finding his feet in the role, I really don’t know. But he wasn’t ensuring governance, like the others so I don’t know why he should be seeking an apology for not exposing what has subsequently been exposed.

    He is sorry, yes, absolutely, is his reputation is tarnished?, yes, which is a shame as he was a good businessman.

    Put it another way. Had he when he started in the role and bothered to take the time to look into the awarding of contracts (which is the first place you would start in any business if you want to assure yourself that there are good independant governance practises in place) he would have exposed this and been a hero today. He didn’t. And neither did any other NED’s.

    The sad reality is they took the money for doing a job that they only hald did. In that context I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy. I think he knows that. I wish someone would ask him live on TV why he and the other NED’s were so negligent! If Jamie D is reading this please ask the question 🙂

  • Pigeon Toes

    Agreed…
    Though the apology , opens a legal avenue, which is why one often receives an official apology of “I’m sorry that you feel”

  • Pigeon Toes

    No.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Reply to William @ 9.56am

  • Pigeon Toes

    Pippakin
    That won’t happen, unless any of those sacked NEDs wish to pursue legal action.
    Also don’t forget that DRD *will* defend (at taxpayer expense)

  • William Markfelt

    Baxter,

    We keep hearing that the issue of the contracts was hidden from the NEDs. They were sacked for dealing with an issue they knew nothing of.

    You may be right, you may be wrong, I may be right, I may be wrong, but until we get clarity on what the NEDs were and weren’t told, and why, we can’t specifically raise Gormley to hero status or condemn him.

    But Mr. Gormley provides a voice and perspective that runs counter to what the department or NIW have tried to tell us was happening. Regardless of what you think he didn’t do, it’s still important to hear that perspective.

    I’m assuming NEDs would only be dealing with what is brought to their attention, and they can’t know everything. No one, not even McKenzie, would know everything going on in a company of 1400 people. It’s an impossible ask of anyone.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Not sure you are right, Wm Markfelt is convinced not and I think he is very likely right. But, thinking on, I see where you are going. The DRD may well be approaching the ‘pay them and get it out of the way’ stage. I really don’t think they will want this hanging over them and being dragged out in court.

    There is a lot of talk here about competence or not, but it seems to me that in a lot of public/private sector companies the role of the NED is a vague almost window dressing one.

    Perhaps I should apply to be a NED (lol) to find out what the coal face is like!

  • Pigeon Toes

    “but no apology or reinstatement.”
    And wouldn’t you as one of the sacked NEDs tell them where to shove it PUBLICLY?

    It wouldn’t be bright for the governance of NIW either.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I still reckon that was his and Dixon first mistake.
    As someone pointed out in a earlier thread , it’s more likely to be Penfold ;-D

  • Drumlin Rock

    “it is not acceptable simply to call a friend”

    even if it is “a conversation with a purpose” ?

    were any of the new NEDs recruited in this manner by the minister?

  • Mick Fealty

    Baxter

    This is utterly beyond dispute. They were screwed over for not responding a report they were not permitted to see by the Priestly/McKenzie crew. Game over.

    This is not party politics. It is government. And unlike street politics, the means matters. In this case, the bare facts are compounded by the corruption of the oversight process. The extent of which will become painfully obvious over the next few days.

    In short, lots of people are going to be out of a job or find their careers badly curtailed as a result of what happened to the NEDs. Sacking the NEDs demonstrated just how unfit for use the whole system has become.

    There are only a limited number of trusted sources on this. In the Media: UTV and the News Letter (and ourselves).

    Politically it breaks down this this:

    SF are desperately trying to protect their second most talented Ministers (who, IMHO, himself is a victim of this corruption of process). It would be better for all concerned i they just turned everything over to the PAC and the RDC to go over with a fine tooth comb.

    DUP after months of conveniently looking the other way, has finally woken up and are flailing around trying find something to hit SF with. Jim Allister has already easily outpaced them and made them look like flatfoots.

    Alliance, who wonk laden as they are perfectly understand this issues but are ducking the fight and backing the Minister (and will quietly and obediently follow him when he changes his mind).

    UUP, er, no leader. So we should problem put them in the Conflicted or Don’t know.

    SDLP, are the only party which has any credibility on this issue. McGlone and Dallat are the only ones worth listening to (though IMHO, they should as far as possible adopt a leadership role here rather than use it to lacerate the Minister.

    Dawn Purvis, should be given a lead role in the PAC. If the world was not driven by political Id, she ought to be Chair. The rest of us could rest easy that some who was up the job could provide some leadership. It would grant SF Kudos to make such a move.

  • Mick Fealty

    Baxter,

    “From day one he takes the same legal responsibilies as other directors. He should have satisfied himself that governance was being followed. He didn’t.”

    This is a perfect match with the Minister’s position. Gormley and the NEDs did not act on matters they were not told about. Neither did the Minister.

    See the precipice you are heading for there?

    In other words, it’s sheer nonsense.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Pippakin
    We’ll have to see what way this one plays out..
    DRD should expect a few solicitors letters

    Key phrases “vicarious liability”, “children” “legal aid” “legal insurance”, “defamation” “section 77”

  • “there is absolute clarity about what went on”

    Baxter, can you shed any light on the Minister’s claim on UTV?

    “.. so the core issue is here is that attention my attention was brought to the fact, initially in relation to one contract that there was something on-toward going on within NIW and I asked for further inquiries into that and that turned up 73 contracts with £24.5 million of awarding of contracts which couldn’t be defended which was done in an improper fashion”

    IWhen did the Minister ask and who did he ask? I thought it was MacKenzie who was doing the asking although he does make one vague claim, “We commissioned further work, which is known as the deep-dive audit. The rest is a matter of record.” When he says we is he including the Minister, possibly an intermediary?

  • Baxter

    Mick
    ‘See the precipice you are heading for there? It’s sheer nonsense’

    So in your world the defence for a NED is no-one told me ? That’s the nonsense ! You need to look at what the role of a NED actually is. It’s their job to ensure there is accountability. They should be providing independent scrutiny. They cannot be passive as you suggest and wait to be told. They ask the questions to ensure governance. They hold the senior team to public account. I’d like to be a NED with your perspective. Get £800 odd pounds a day to sit in the boardroom like the three wise monkeys !!! Come on you gotta accept that if nothing else

  • “They were sacked for dealing with an issue they knew nothing of.”

    William, would we not have to see the Board minutes to see how Board members reacted to the issue being raised? MacKenzie claims he told the Board chair about the issue, though not its alleged full nature, in August 2009. Mind you, we’re still waiting for the evidence that the CEO was less than honest.

  • “Dawn Purvis, should be given a lead role in the PAC.”

    Agreed. Also, it’s nice to see the SDLP step up to the mark this time round. As for the UUP, I think it’s much worse than no leader. I’ve not made up my mind about Murphy’s role in this fiasco.

  • William Markfelt

    We would need to see those minutes, Nevin. And a good many more documents besides.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘So in your world the defence for a NED is no-one told me ?

    Baxter,

    An old lady has just been mugged in Peckham. You probably aren’t aware of this. But now you are.

    What I want to know is why you haven’t gone to the police to tell them what you know about it. I may have to charge you with withholding information. I’m not really interested that you didn’t hear the detail of this mugging until now. Why haven’t you gone to the police? Did you ask everyone in Peckham if they planned any muggings today? Shouldn’t it be your civic responsibility to ensure you knew all the facts about the intentions of Peckham’s inhabitants?

    In fact, I’m charging you with withholding information from the police.

    What’s your defence?

  • Justice for NIW

    Baxter

    I’m interested to hear your views on sleger’s posting at 10.28am re continuity of a professional relationship with the industry regulator should McKenzie remain CE in NIW.

  • Baxter, irrespective of what people think about MacKenzie, I like this observation: “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. . ‘boiled frog anecdote’ .. There was definitely a culture of reticence about telling the Department anything.”

    So much for accountability re. taxpayer’s money. I reckon deep-fried NED would be on the menu of a MacKenzie take-away.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “A quick search on google shows that the previous Chairman, Chris Mellor, was dismissed from a previous Chief Executive utility role for buying a business for Anglican Water against shareholder wishes that resulted in a substancial material loss in the multiples of hundreds of millions of pounds, and a second issue around financing that ending up with a unncessary bill to consultants and advisors of £120 million odd ! And a subsequent legal investigation into fraud into the nargain!!

    I’m no specialist researcher but already I am asking how on earth he got the job as Chairman in the first place. What genius failed to spot that one within the Public Appointments commission or whereever the blame lies?”

    Er the Minister and Permanent Secretary?
    Now do you see?

  • Pigeon Toes

    So are you suggesting that out of the blue the NEDs , despite all the audits and awarding of COPE status, should have called for an investigation of unknown unknowns?

    Catch a grip

  • Baxter

    Nevin iwish I could shed light. Unfortunately I haven inside track on this. I wish I had though !

  • Baxter

    William I’m disappointed in you. You normally present a reasoned argument. Go and take 10 minutes and read what the role and purpose of a NED is rather than tryin to take the piss with a childish argument

  • William Markfelt

    Seriously, Baxter. When the police come to arrest you for withholding information about something you weren’t previously aware of, what’s your defence?

    Does the name Josef K mean anything to you?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Baxter
    Why should the NEDs have called for an investigation into something when all the evidence at hand (audits and recently awarded COPE status) had NOT alerted any problems.

    So were the NEDS ot doing their job properly? If so neither were the internal auditors, the external auditors and it further calls into question all bodies with COPE status.

    Neither does there seem to have been any complaints internally or externally.

    What we do have , and clearly demonstrated is a newly appointed CEO, with an agenda to get rid of the board and a government department keen for him not to resign (by whatever means)

  • Pigeon Toes

    !Does the name Josef K mean anything to you?”

    Meant nothing to PAC in 2009

  • William Markfelt

    ‘calls into question all bodies with COPE status.’

    Any truth in the rumour that DRD is to be downgraded to ‘I can’t COPE’ status?

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Mr J Wells asked the Minister for Regional Development if his Department has issued a written apology
    to the former Rathlin Island ferry staff member whose identity was revealed following his ‘whistle blowing’
    allegations. (AQW 5623/09)
    Minister for Regional Development: In correspondence following the publication of the Investigation into the
    Procurement of the Rathlin Ferry Service contract my officials acknowledged in writing the difficulty that the
    process had caused for those who considered themselves to be “whistleblowers”. The investigation report dealt
    fully with the concerns expressed by the former staff member.”

    Apologies for again revisiting this. However, the drafted by officials response is Bullshit from start to finish.

    It also appears that “sorry seems to be the hardest word”
    😉

  • Pigeon Toes

    “it’s been tough…integrity”

    Here’s another new word for them to try out HYPOCRISY

  • William Markfelt

    Why apologise?

    The point you make is important, as it helps identify

    a) a culture of recurring ‘cock up’ (at the very least) within the same department, and establish that claims that the NIW saga is ‘unprecedented’ isn’t wholly accurate

    b) helps us identify potential exit strategies from this morass by DRD (again).

    I’m expecting repeating patterns of behaviour. In a year’s time for DRD to be under the microscope again for some new scandal, and not man enough to say sorry when they’re caught by the short hairs.

  • Baxter

    No I am not suggesting that at all Pigeon Toes. I thought it was clear what I was saying.

    The central component for a NED role is governance. My experience of NED’s, and I know many very good ones, is that you start with the numbers. You need to know are the financial controls in place, are there controls around the main element of expenditure – regadless of the size of the company or sector it is in. After that you review the protocols around the key risks that affect that company – and no doubt there is a very detailed risk register and a risk evaluation process upon which they must satisfy themselves.

    Typically then you oversee the key performance standards and depending on the nature of the business they vary but there will be a loads of KPI’s to address and so it goes on, you staisfy yourself with ciritcal elements, the conduct of teh senior team, ensure there are controls checks and balances in place and move on to review other elements in order of priority. Good corporate governance demands consistent focus and scrutiny from a whole range of angles.

    And my argument is the NED’s haven’t even got themselves off first base by randomily auditing how the biggest aspect of the accounts – the £1bn expendure – that was being spent.

    Experience shows that you focus not necessarily on the biggest amounts because they are always tendered and tied up in very tight legal contracts that several parties have input into. So you might typically start where people can bend the rules. Hence the need to scrutinise the types of contracts that have been questioned – particularly the time based consultancy ones? who is signing off time sheets? were the hours actually committed – and you don’t need to know every single detail. You ask to review a random sample of ten or so, spend an hour or two reviewing the detail and paper trail and act on the patterns that emerge etc. If you have a concern you escalate, if you don’t you move to the next area of risk.

    This is not rocket science. Its the way most decent NED’s work because it also protects them. They are seen to have been going on record to challenge the information put in front of them. It is actually as much a mechanism to protect a NED as much as it is to prove they are adding value.

    I said in a response to Mick earlier that it is not acceptable to have NED’s sitting like the three wise monkeys – seeing no evil, speaking no evil, hearing no evil – they should be on top of the auditors, questioning querying, challenging, they should be ensuring that the senior team in its entirity is acting appropriately, always focused on best practice and delivering against what should be stretch targets. And I feel these guys didn’t get off first base.

    Just don’t get the argument that nobody told them so its OK – they are paid huge sums to essentially protect our interests. In taking on a NED appointment they should understand the legal ramications. They should understand the general processes NED’s go through to improve governance. Anyone in the utility industy will know the outsourced contracts should be the first area for scrutiny as there is so much potential for quiet back handers and kick backs and all sorts for what are often extremely lucrative contracts awarded to private sector companies that make big profits as a consequence of winning them.

    It seems to me they turned up and board meetings, reviewed what was put in front of them, took it all as read, ticked the odd box, picked up their cheque and went home!!

    I would love to see the minutes though so see what sorts of questions they asked, what requests they made for additional information, all the usual things that NED’s should do in every other business or organisation. I’ve seen many minutes of Board meetings of major organisations and the level of scruitiny good NED’s make is significant, real detailed analysis of teh core issues, absolute tenacity in ensuring things are as they should be – I would be amazed if the Board meetings with NIW are anything like that – happy to be corrected if the minutes come into the public domain tho.

  • Baxter

    William M

    “I’m assuming NEDs would only be dealing with what is brought to their attention, and they can’t know everything. No one, not even McKenzie, would know everything going on in a company of 1400 people. It’s an impossible ask of anyone”.

    They can’t possibly be expected to know the detail, they have to trust their layers of management for that. And audit proceses should verify along with measures of key indicators the actual performance. That’s why they spend all this money an NED’s and that larger organisations tend to have several.

    The issue of scale is an important one. That is precisely whey larger organisations need a number of non-execs

  • Baxter

    Yes William , I accept that point.

  • Pigeon Toes

    .The investigation report dealt
    fully with the concerns expressed by the former staff member.”

    The Minister definitely “misled the House” on that one….