NI Water: Systemic failure yes, but whose?

The NI Water problem has remained stubbornly unnamed and unnameable. Watergate would be the most obvious ‘gate’ choice, but that’s already taken.

We know that the Permanent Secretary, the first in the history of the state of Northern Ireland, has been suspended (see also Eamonn’s blow by blow) for vicariously attacking the Public Accounts Committee (through the offices of Phoenix Gas), over its questioning of the IRT and then deleting the evidence that he had done so.

So first thing which has to be clarified before all others is: does NI Water have a problem with procurement, or not?

Interestingly,  Slugger understands that Mr McKenzie in a detailed letter to the Utility Regulator on 4th February, assures Iain Osbourne that there is “no deep concern” about compliance across the business. 

If that was the view of the CEO after the IRT was convened, why hold the Board held responsible for something the CEO informs the regulator is not a serious matter.

And this one (DRD Email dated 1oth June, 2010), for instance, demonstrates just how closely the CEO of NI Water, the DRD’s senior management team and the Comptroller and Auditor General were working together in the run up to the PAC’s hearing on the 1st July.

There is also a mention from McKenzie in which he gives three weeks notice of the intention of the Belfast Telegraph to run a series of pieces in the run up to the PAC.

Tomorrow the new Board are due to meet. One of the matters on their agenda, we understand, is a proposal to endorse Laurence McKenzie as CEO.  That would surely be a mistake whilst so many matters are currently ongoing and unresolved.

Of course, NI Water is entitled to get to a point where a line can be drawn under a traumatic past. But how can the  interim Board commit to its business with confidence when there are untold stray pieces of information still lurking in the undergrowth?

  • Who’s what?

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed. This has gone largely unnoticed, but the story that gave rise to Mr Priestly’s suspension is still only poorly understood, mostly because the evidence is still largely buried in the machine.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘The NI Water problem has remained stubbornly unnamed and unnameable. Watergate would be the most obvious ‘gate’ choice, but that’s already taken.’

    L’eau Powered? L’eau Prices? L’eau Quality? L’eau esteem? L’eau sperm count? L’eau Vision?

    I’ve settled on ‘L’eau Lying’, though.

    I concede that several MLAs may need these explained to them, so they might never catch on.

    And I’d appreciate if I didn’t see these repeated back at me in tomorrow’s papers, guys. Think up your own.

  • “But how can the interim Board commit to its business with confidence when there are untold stray pieces of information still lurking in the undergrowth?”

    Quite. There are also serious questions about the interim Board itself and these have yet to be given detailed consideration. What a mess.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Ah the 10th of June when he was at that even event hosted by one of the soon- to- be new interim NEDs.

    “Travelling”?
    Makes him sound like an old fashioned salesman…

  • medillen

    Here we ago again the same small group of people making the same comments ad infinitum, bored senseless.

  • Pigeon Toes

    They had already seen the letter sent to RDC, *before* asking whether it was appropriate?

    The confidentiality clause, was indeed a bit odd, but clever as presumably it got the IRT out of any little loophole they may have had regarding inaccuracies.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Why don’y you go and knit yourself an opinion of your own then?

  • Mick Fealty
  • William Markfelt

    ‘Tomorrow the new Board are due to meet. One of the matters on their agenda, we understand, is a proposal to endorse Laurence McKenzie as CEO. That would surely be a mistake whilst so many matters are currently ongoing and unresolved.’

    The board, knowing full well that the agenda might be leaked (oh, look, it has!) would hardly be likely to risk setting down a no confidence proposal.

    There is the distinct possibility that the proposal, as framed, may not be endorsed.

    Interesting, and perhaps telling, that it’s even on the agenda.

  • drumlins rock

    how about calling it –

    Watter-yett, ulster-scots for water gate.

  • DR, the absence of a gate is the problem – so that leaves with a hole in the wall/hedge ie a slap.

  • Interested

    “Of course, NI Water is entitled to get to a point where a line can be drawn under a traumatic past.”

    Are you kidding? While there’s more self delighting relish to be taken from your incredible exposé?

  • wild turkey

    lets see, main players in this drama are

    1 DRD
    2 NIW
    3.PAC

    how about Triangulate?

    or, given the the multifacted miasma of the story

    Prolifigate?

    water features obviously, hmm sluicegate.

    no make that sleezegate

    i know, i know,

  • Dewi

    Fealtygate?

  • Floodgate closely followed by
    Profligate

  • The Office of the Information Commissioner provides guidance for NDPBs such as NIW.

    Local authorities are also expected to publish agendas in advance so that interested parties can attend.

  • joeCanuck

    Gate is overused. Call it Watermess.

  • William Markfelt

    I wasn’t aware of that. Thanks for clarification.

    Can interested parties submit written questions at these things? Is heckling permitted?

  • If it really really needs a name, how about ‘No, Minister’?

  • The July 9 DRD Weekly Business Review minutes have just been published today.

    “7.3 Water Reform
    Lian Patterson updated WBR on issues surrounding the NIW Interim Board and the need to appoint a Chairman during the interim period.”

    Who appoints the Chairman? Why was an extra NED appointed?

  • William Markfelt

    Just as importantly, it demonstrates that Lian Patterson is driving the issue and not just batting out until the tea interval, when those travelling people, the Belfast Gypsies, return.

    As Mick points out, the NIAO’s role also deserves much greater scrutiny.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Fumigate”

  • Pigeon Toes

    William,
    I think part of the problem is that it is yet another body which has been labelled and indeed promotes itself as “independent from government”.

    Of course they are part of the machinery.
    This episode has clearly demonstrated this to a wider audience , outside the civil service, and others who are like it or not part of the same machinery.
    That is not the audiences problem, it is a design fault in the machine.

  • William Markfelt

    I’ve asked a question on the ‘mislead’ thread Nevin, based on the same Weekly Business Review issue you’ve referred to here.

    As I read things your posts, and look at dates referred to in posts, is there some kind of inference that the mistake in publishing the minutes is being explained away by the error being rectified prior to its discovery?

    (I’ve framed this in a longer format on that thread).

  • William Markfelt

    Of course, Watergate took its name from the building where the whole affair began.

    On that basis, Old Wasteland Road?

  • come to think of it Litigate might be apt

  • Pigeon Toes

    Sheughgate
    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sheugh

    “Noun
    sheugh (plural sheughs)
    A ditch.
    [Usage notes
    This usage current in rural areas of Ulster (Northern Ireland and northern Republic of Ireland) and parts of Scotland.
    It is also used in (at least) the West of Scotland to refer to the space between the buttocks – not the anus or cheeks, but rather the area where the two buttock cheeks meet.
    Colloquially used when labouring – “The sweat is running down the sheugh of my arse”

  • I’ve put up the answer there, William. Prior rectification was not involved – to the best of my limited knowledge.

  • Susan, I opt for Watercloset – there’s some ‘outing’ still to take place – and I don’t mean a jaunt to the seaside.

  • William Markfelt

    “Of course, NI Water is entitled to get to a point where a line can be drawn under a traumatic past.”

    What about an advertising campaign to reinvent themselves in the eyes of the public?

    It’s a pop music trope, enjoyed by everyone from the Beatles to David Bowie to Michael Jackson. It’s the key to survival.

    So maybe a nice soft-focus, low-lit advert of a romantic evening, demonstrating all the ways NI Water form a core part of all our lives.

    The male, let’s call him Larry, is shown filling a pot to boil spuds (you can’t beat a plate of Ulster spuds). After a spot of deep diving, Larry serves up dinner, but alas, the female, let’s call her Leanne, is violently ill due to a spot of gastroenteritis (should have washed your hands, Larry! What’s that you say? You did?) and is seen rushing upstairs to barf in God’s telephone, and then flushes, thus encompassing the two key elements of NIW’s product, fresh water and waste water.

    And, of course, given the romantic setting, we need to overlay the imagery with an appropriate luvved-up soundtrack.

    Ah! You can’t beat good old Teddy Pendergrass for a bit of luvved up action.

    How about ‘The Whole town’s laughing at me’?

  • William Markfelt

    “The sweat is running down the sheugh of my arse”

    We just can’t get away from that July 1st PAC appearance, can we?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Or doughal (sp?)gate… For culchies only ;-D

  • A snippet from the June 2 monthly meeting of the DRD Monthly Board:

    “v)
    Northern Ireland Water
    Lian updated the Board on the latest position regarding the temporary replacement of Board members for NIW. She then went on to update the Board on the current position of the “Deep Dive” audit which the Chief Executive of NIW had instigated.
    vi)
    PC10
    Lian informed the Board on the current position of this issue which was attempting to reach an agreed position and way ahead. She hoped to be in a position to provide a clearer picture at the July meeting of the Board.”

    Was the ‘deep dive’ into the shallow pool the CE’s idea or was it a response to the Minister’s ‘asked for further inquiries’ – UTV July 16?

  • Pigeon Toes

    “There is also a mention from McKenzie in which he gives three weeks notice of the intention of the Belfast Telegraph to run a series of pieces in the run up to the PAC”

    Did those pieces ever appear ?

  • William Markfelt

    My confusion between your 1155am and 443pm posts and what looks like the contents of an email to be an online statement. Apologies for that.

    I think I need a holiday, with all these elements to follow. Somewhere with lots of water close by.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Sorry have come across this

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/viewpoint/editors-viewpoint-profligacy-of-public-body-unacceptable-14859518.html

    “The only saving grace in the whole sorry history of NIW has been the prompt action by Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy and the body’s new chief executive to set the body on a new footing and to initiate an investigation into what went on before. Taxpayers will expect the Public Accounts Committee to get to the bottom of the waste at NIW and to ensure that it is not repeated – ever.”

  • William Markfelt

    ‘yet another body which has been labelled and indeed promotes itself as “independent from government”.’

    Doesn’t the Trade Descriptions Act exist to prevent companies from presenting their goods or services in a dishonest or misleading way.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Aye I suppose you could complain to the Consumer Council, or Trading Standards…
    Oh wait….Maybe not…

  • joeCanuck

    Well, people have been fired so you could call it Waterboot; or if that gate sound is so desireable, Great Waterboot, maybe just GreatBoot.

  • mopp head

    Ahem. Sorry to interrupt all this. But is this really what citizen journalism has come to – frantically defaming named individuals on the basis of scraps of info, selected documents, one side of the story etc? Individuals who can’t reply – or don’t due to quaint notions of Assembly PAC protocol.
    It all looks a bit like bullying to me (that is if anyone is still taking this disturbing obsessiveness seriously).
    It’s fairly easy online to throw some facts together to make some nasty inferences. And it’s a practice that could be catching.
    Indeed I could mention Slugger O’Toole, sagely commenting daily on politicians, Government and the media. And then I could drop in its business arm Slugger Consults, which has business ties to Government bodies – including the NI Assembly and Sammy Wilson’s Stormont dept – and the BBC. I could also mention in passing that the Slugger team did a workshop for DUP delegates at their party conference last year and indeed that the website was subsequently very defensive of a certain DUP leader and his £5 land deal with a developer.
    Do you see what I did there?
    Oh and here’s a link:
    http://www.sluggerconsults.com/the-team/

  • joeCanuck

    It’s fairly easy online to throw some facts together to make some nasty inferences.

    mopp head,

    Isn’t that exactly what you have done at the end of your comment? Hoist on your own petard, methinks.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Remind us of that protocol. Perhaps you should have been reminding senior DRD civil servants of that:-S

  • mopp head

    That’s exactly my point – I’m showing how easy it is to throw some facts together and make an inference. Is it a fair inference? Quite possibly not, but if certain people dish it out, then they can hardly whinge if it’s served up for them too

  • magnus

    Re a name.

    Commentators have been unconsciously echoing Simon and Garfunkel as in “This evening, more revalations from troubled water NI as …

    As for the Ulster Scots ref above ..well i thought i was well versed in Ulster Scots, until I read the DRD Ulster Scots guide to DRD services

    What on earth is this about (no cheating thank you)?

    Kintrie-pairt Ettlin an Reengin Shaidin

    Tha Shaidin haes tha ontak o tha Kintrie-pairt Graithin Roadin . Tha Roadin gies an able an lang-wisit sicht o tha oncum o Norlin Airlan frae this oot tae tha yeir 2025. It haes tha ontak forbye o kerryin oot scances, pruif-castin an owergangin tha throchin o tha Roadin.

    Tha Shaidin haes tha ontak o desarnin whit wye tae guide tha roadin o convoyin hereawa wi its graithin, throchin an pruif-castin o tha Kintrie-pairt Convoyin Roadin an Aisie-ingaed Convoyin Roadin . Forbye, it fens tha mair namelie inpit o tha Männystrie tae oncum ’at’s no sae sair oan tha yird.

    http://www.drdni.gov.uk/alternative_formats_in_ulster_scots

    I guess long term planning because of the reference to the yeir 2025

  • mike scott

    There’s a question for Slugger to answer. Is this site in the employ of NI Governemt departments, and parties? Since transparency I(or lack of) s the dish of the day.

  • magnus

    My wife has just suggested that the author of said ulster scots has re configured one of those captured german “muckle puzzle” machines.

  • mike scott

    I previously posed the question as to whether or not UTV would release in full the emails which formed the basis of the programme. I have now asked the station directly, no answer.If a public body refused to even answer a question Jamie wouldn’t be long whipping round there with his camera.

  • DC

    Now correct me if I’m wrong but was Slugger not shoulder to shoulder with the BBC in highlighting if not promoting and exposing the Iris Robinson scandal, keeping the story going rather than letting it die away – or letting up??

  • Pigeon Toes

    Do your own foi. I imagine it’s all been passed by their legal team…

  • I’ve added the Patterson email to the picasaweb collection. Priestly was attending the Ó Muilleoir organised Belfast Media Group/Irish Echo venture at the time.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘defaming named individuals on the basis of scraps of info, selected documents, one side of the story etc? Individuals who can’t reply ‘

    Yeah. There’s always that.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘if anyone is still taking this disturbing obsessiveness seriously’

    I think a full page of serial piss-taking, often the only weapon at Joe Public’s disposal, provides a bit of a clue.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘if certain people dish it out, then they can hardly whinge if it’s served up for them too’

    Yeah. There’s always that.

  • Mike Scott

    Problem with that is that the UTV programme used emails which were not released under FOI, but leaked from whomever. Those are the emails I would like to see UTV release.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Ah but that’s a problem for DRD rather than UTV. It seems some rather “naughty” civil servants deleted, and/or withheld these emails pretending they did not exist.
    If deliberate (and in the circumstances Ii’s highly likely) in order to circumvent FOI, the act of deleting/withholding constitutes a criminal offence under section 77 of the FOI Act.

    If you want these released in full, in order to identify the person, who leaked said emails, don’t forget they have a defence under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

  • Mopp Head – “Is this really what citizen journalism has come to”
    -Absol-fekkin-lutely! And quite right as well. As you can see there is more evidence being uncovered on a daily basis. If people were to accept what Departments, politicians etc tell them on a daily basis we would be better off living in either Stalinist Russia or Facist Germany!
    (Looking at some of your posts you may well think that’s a good idea)

    It is obvious that there has been wrongdoing for months and it is of the utmost importance that those responsible are held to account!

  • Pigeon Toes

    Oh and now you know those emails exist, they can be released under FOI, if it is the actual information you are after…

  • Pigeon Toes

    Perhaps it’s the piss taking bit that’s getting to them?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Effluentgate?

  • PT: Ahh, It’s well known that neither Stalin or Hitler had the best sense of humour!

  • Cynic

    GReat to see the Bel Tels news values are as strong as ever

  • Pigeon Toes

    Splog, always a mistake in any argument to mention Hitler..

    They will be quoting Godwin’s law at you next..(once they’ve googled it)

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Taxpayers will expect the Public Accounts Committee to get to the bottom of the waste at NIW and to ensure that it is not repeated – ever.””

    Cynic, I do agree with the last sentence 😉

  • William Markfelt

    “No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”

  • William Markfelt

    I don’t know a lot about FOI requests, PT, and any I’ve ever submitted have met with a less than satisfactory response.

    http://www.belfasttrust.hscni.net/about/FreedomInformation.htm

    I’ve been looking at FOI policy on different organisations’ websites, including the Belfast Trust’s one. (I should make it clear I don’t need to ask them anything, I’m just comparing different FOI statements).

    But I came across the following sentence.

    ‘There are no time limits on how far back you can gain access to information, as long as we hold it on record.’

    That’s good news, in one respect but, gettting back to the DRD aspect of the NIW saga, that last bit ‘as long as we hold it on record’ is intriguing, because it rather appears that DRD have a fairly clear policy (not stated on their website) to routinely delete information.

  • Mick Fealty

    Straight answer, no. We are open to sponsorship for an essay series or projects like the Slugger Awards, but the site is strictly non commercial. And in particular the editorial line is not for sale.

    I do work as under the banner of consultant with a range of organisations and companies, some public sector, some private, some voluntary.

    All of that work is about teaching people what the net means it’s challenges and opportunities. Thus far it has not involve me in providing counselling or advice on actually setting policy, though we might advise on how.

    Here’s an example of a presentation I did for an SDLP conference…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P65E3gZyZmU

    We don’t rely on any one source for a stream of income…

    As a political analyst I sell my work to newspapers, but most of it is done pro bono for Slugger.

    If any of that changes substantially, I will have no hesitation in declaring it.

  • Pigeon Toes

    AS far as I can remember there was a precedent set a few years ago and that mere deletion, does not actually remove it from the system.
    That information IS recoverable and subject to FOI.

    Will try and find and post here

  • Pigeon Toes
  • Pigeon Toes

    “Amended or deleted information

    The right of access to information under the Freedom of Information Act applies to information held by your public authority at the time that the request is received. If it appears that requested information has been amended or deleted, it is important to identify whether this was done before or after the request was received.

    Information deleted from the system before the request was received
    Instructing a computer to delete a particular item may not result in the item being destroyed immediately. At least for a period, the information might still be retrievable, albeit at substantial cost and with potential disruption to the system. However, where it is the intention that data should be permanently deleted, and this is not achieved only because the technology will not permit it, authorities may regard such data as having been permanently deleted. This information is no longer considered to be ‘held’ by the authority and does not have to be retrieved or provided in response to a request.

    This approach is not justified where the information has only been temporarily deleted and is stored in such a way that it could easily be recovered, for example from the Deleted Items folder in Outlook. This information is still considered to be ‘held’ by the department and may have to be provided if a request is received.

    Information amended before a request was received
    It is possible that you will hold multiple versions of a piece of text. If you are in any doubt about which version or versions should be disclosed, you should consult your freedom of information practitioner.

    Information that is deleted or amended after the request was received
    Information held by an authority must not be deleted or amended in order to avoid complying with a freedom of information request. Altering, defacing, blocking, erasing, destroying or concealing information in order to avoid providing it in response to a freedom of information request may constitute a criminal offence under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act for which the person convicted will be held personally responsible.

    If requested information is deleted from any computer, a hard copy records management system, or an electronic filing system in line with the authority’s standard records management practices after a request is received, the information is not considered to be held by the public authority. This will only apply if it can be shown that the person who made the deletion had no knowledge of the request, and that they were following standard records management practice and timetables when they deleted the information.”

  • Jj

    We know that at least 2 people received Paul Priestly’s email enclosing the Dixon draft letter. 2 of them deleted it. Depending on when this deletion occurred, is an offence committed?

    There is prima facie evidence that one other official wrote emails in a deliberately “cryptic” fashion to avoid FoI. Did they also receive Priestly’s draft letter email? Did they help draft it? If the letter was drafted then other emails exist which contain or refer to the draft. The timeframe for such emails is very limited. (between PAC and the date of Priestly emnail to Dixon (date, anyone?)

    There is prima facie evidence to suggest that other emails are likely to have been or have been deliberately deleted. We aren’t talking about a large group of people here. They can be counted on the fingers of one hand and all of their names are now in the public domain.

  • William Markfelt

    I’t is possible that you will hold multiple versions of a piece of text. If you are in any doubt about which version or versions should be disclosed, you should consult your freedom of information practitioner.’

    Alternatively, they could release them all. It might assist to wade through what can be a Freedom of Disinformation Act, to those who hold the information.

  • magnus

    I see i will have to answer my own question.

    I still do not know what this is about and this is worrying because i have Scots forebears, I quote Rabbie Burns at the drop of a hat, and I attended many a Burns supper until free loading political riff raff spoiled them. In other words I should know what this is saying.

    Seems to me my wife is right , whoever wrote this is manufacturing an artificial language barrier perhaps to help keep themselves and others in a job.