NI Water: “How did PwC get it so wrong?”

On Friday, Diana Rusk had an interesting take on the NI Water issue.

She highlights a memo from last April in which the Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, responds to a request for an explanation for why Price-Waterhouse Coopers awarded Northern Ireland Water exemplar status on its procurement practice, when the same organisation has just sacked its Board for the same issue.

The questions sharpen somewhat when you take into account that PwC have a number of those £28 million worth of contracts thought by the Department’s Independent Review Team to have been ‘irregularly awarded’.

Now no one should infer that there was anything illegal, or even necessarily improper, here. That question appears to have been raised early on by the Auditor General and then quietly dropped in later correspondence. Even Messers Priestly and McKenzie could not claim at the PAC that anything had been done which actually breached the law.

But it raises (once again) the problem of closed loop reviews, in which there are obvious conflicts of interest. Like the Auditor General briefing the department before the PAC meeting, given the Audit Office is supposed to be independent, it doesn’t read well after the fact.

Besides, how can we take the PwC report passing everything at NI Water, at face value when another ‘independent’ player (the IRT) claims there is a serious problem? If one is right, surely the other is wrong?