Did McKenzie mislead the Public Accounts Committee?

UTV last night revealed that Laurence McKenzie (ie, not the sacked Board) had similar procurement problems at NIE:

London consultants PKF were asked by the Utility Regulator to investigate the failings. PKF examined just 12 projects commissioned by NIE over a three-year period ending last January.

Further they note (PKF Report) that under MacKenzie “Competitive tendering is the exception rather than the norm” in inside NIE.

And yet in a direct answer to Dawn Purvis at the last meeting of the PAC:

Ms Purvis:

Were there any procurement failures when you were the head of Northern Ireland Electricity?

Mr MacKenzie:

Not that I recall.

Hmmm… So the CEO of NI Water cannot recall the fact (this Letter from NIE plc 30.6.09 has the name of the person acknowledging the breaches redacted for a reason known only to the Utilities Regulator how released it under FOI) that NIE had procurement breaches of precisely the same order and degree as those he proposed the Board be sacked at NI Water?

Another economy with the truth from Mr MacKenzie, and, we suspect it must now be dawing on those members of the PAC wh0 take the trouble to read the evidence now pouring into them, not the only one.

Here’s what he told Mitchel McLaughlin on 1st July:

Mr MacKenzie:

I say that coming from an environment where there had been robust controls and where procurement was taken seriously and was approved at the appropriate level. Therefore, I believe that the culture in the company was that it believed that it had been freed of its shackles.

Aye, right Mr MacKenzie. How do you justify that statement under the terms of the PKF report?

Now, as we’ve seen, the information available to the PAC before the summer was at best partial and incomplete. But it should not be lost even on the slowest of their members, that Mr MacKenzie was either not open nor honest in his responses to their questions, or he had no idea of what was going on under his nose at NIE…

Either way he has some serious questions to answer..

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  • Splog, nothing much stands up in NI governance when subjected to forensic scrutiny 🙁

  • Pigeon Toes

    Aye , but sure MacKenzie sees to suffer from convenient memory loss on occasion… He mightn’t be able to recall what emails he received, those deleted, and perhaps even hitting the delete button…

    In the same way that he only remembered his odd wee business cuppa with Mr Dixon.

    I would suggest that anyone who can share a derogatory (and incorrect) nickname regarding the regulator is certainly more than just a business acquaintance…

  • DRD is on the ball today – and maybe a newshound too 😉

    “CMB are responsible for preparing and posting the WBR minutes on the internet. The minutes are posted once they have been cleared at the subsequent WBR meeting.

    The minutes of 9 July were not published because of an administrative error. An extra copy of the FOI schedule was published instead of a copy of the minutes.

    We discovered this, this morning, following an email from another interested party. The mistake has been rectified and the minutes have been posted on the internet.”

  • William Markfelt

    Hang on, Nevin.

    I’m getting confused here. I’m reading the thread again, and what you posted, and seem to be arriving at the conclusion that the department rectified the mistake before they discovered it.

    I live in fear and DRD of my head melting with all these little clerical errors that seem to occur, but that’s how I’m reading it.

    Have I missed a bit out somewhere along the way? I only ask, because there have been enough truth games in this entire thing that I could quite well believe that they’re saying they rectified it before they discovered it.

  • William, my head is melting too!! I asked two questions, one related to the July 9 minutes and the other to the July WBR reports.

    Staff were absent in July and the missing reports oversight was remedied within the past few days.

    The missing July 9 minutes were mentioned on Slugger this morning and an email to the DRD led to the error being remedied prior to my message getting through to the DRD’s Central Management Branch.

    “The date of the next [WBR] meeting will be advised in due course.” … WBR minutes July 23.

  • William Markfelt

    My mistake I think. I was looking at that page yesterday and noticed the missing bits, just as there have been other missing bits on a variety of sites (NIA’s PAC transcript, etc). Then you pointed me at the site again (post at 11.55) and it had changed to include those minutes. Then there’s the 4.43pm post, which clinches the illusion of confusion, where you quote them as having rectified a mistake. I took the quote to be a statement online, but I now read it as the contents of an email, and it was online prior to the 1155am post you made 🙂

    All clear now? Me neither.

  • Tony Clerk

    William, Next time you’re doing that FoI search, you could add one to the Assembly Commission. Ask them, how come the minutes of the Assembly Commission meetings of 23 October and 1 November 2007 aren’t on the website? You know, the meetings when they decided to remove their senior management team. Another oversight?

  • malairt

    @William : MacKenzie is indeed an accountant. See his Linked-In entry where he lists his membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (and most emphatically NOT England & Wales.

  • malairt

    MacKenzie didn’t need forensic skills to start the process off. As he testified to the PAC, his “antennae twitched” in August 2009 when he received an email asking for the PPP consultancy contract with Contractor A to be renewed.

  • William Markfelt

    That usually explains it.

    ‘Clerical error’ is a marvellous catch-all phrase too.

  • Neville Bagnall

    “The significance here is that this appears to be an industry wide tolerance.

    I understand priestly not getting this, but McKenzie not understanding this is puzzling.”

    Agreed. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Neville Bagnall

    “You can make all the rules up that you want, issue all the guidelines, make demands, issue memos, remind employees, but in the real world, rather than some air-conned glass and chrome office, things do not work like that, and the bigger the organisation, the more things won’t work like that.”

    Agreed. It will even be argued that it is “red tape”, and “public service bureaucracy” if there is no flexibility.

    There should to be some benchmarking against common and best practice in both the public and private sectors. Also as Magnus points out, clear guidance and processes for handling exceptions.

  • WM: – Maybe they should start suspending their clerical staff? They seem to have got away with that excuse for years!!!

  • Neville Bagnall

    “It is not enough to say we weren’t told, it is a defence to say that we asked all the right questions, and took reasonable steps to satisfy ourselves to a reasonable degree ie demonstrate that we were not negligent.”

    I agree in principle. But as William pointed out, I don’t think that charge has been stood up. Further, I think some benchmarking should be done against both the public and private sectors.

    Dismissal is an exceptional sanction, it should be shown that the offense was exceptional. At the moment I’m not convinced that the Board ignored evidence presented to them, or that if in failing to seek satisfaction (presuming they did) that they differ from a lot of other boards (public and private).

    As Mick says, that is the significance of this latest piece of evidence. It points to a wider practice across the sector. It may even be a general problem cutting across public, private, local and international corporate governance.

    That doesn’t make it right.

    But if it is true that this is a general problem and the key decision makers knew it was true, then why the exceptional sanction?

    If they didn’t know that this was a general problem (or at least sectoral), then they too failed to ask the appropriate questions.

    Thats a lot of “ifs”, I know.

    I am not ruling out that dismissal might have been the appropriate sanction, I’m just saying that (coming late to the issue and looking from the outside) while the IRT report necessitated action, in and of itself I’m not convinced it justified dismissal.

    Or, if it is a wider problem, that dismissing one Board is sufficient action.

  • malairt

    @William
    All public bodies in NI pay for CCNI. NIW certainly does.