NI Water: Is the Audit Office about to take the gloves off?

One of the most interesting aspect of this story is the degree to which most of the mainstream media (pace UTV and the News Letter) does not seem to understand what led to the point at which the Northern Ireland Audit Office is now going into the offices of NI Water to examine their financial record keeping against the findings of an Internal Audit.

Interestingly they are also going to be looking at legacy issues from the days when the Water Service was under the direct control of DRD. They will have four weeks in which to conduct their inquiry.

Control over this matter is slowly slipping out of the hands of the Minister, the new Board and Paul Priestly’s successor Dr Malcolm McKibben. The Auditor General has been in with the PAC for the last two weeks in camera and has clearly decided to act on foot of their instructions.

Slugger has had sight of the draft terms of reference for the examination and we’re satisfied that it gives the team going in sufficient scope to determine just how robust NI Water’s reporting systems have been.

Given that in one contract the Department had to go to the supplier to ask for records it hadn’t kept itself, that should make for interesting reading.

It will also examine independently collated material provided by Contracting Out to the PAC, regarding their work on the controversial Steria contract. The C&AG has quite specifically asked his team to take, so far as they can, a view on any substantial detail on which the two reports differ as to the facts of the case.

That too, should make for some very interesting reading…

It’s encouraging that the C&AG is beginning to work hand in glove with the Public Audit Committee like this. It’s to be welcomed and very much encouraged. The development of democracy in Northern Ireland depends on this kind of scrutiny, and all concerned taking a pride the fact they are the last backstop for probity in government.

If there is any doubt now, the Northern Ireland public will shortly learn what the southern public have known for some years now: ie, that it matters greatly to everyone’s quality of life, how government (whether that be Minister, or the ‘permanent government’) spends the limited resources at its disposal.

Mr Wilson is promising £2 Billion of cuts and a likelihood of more on the way.

If the Audit Office and the PAC cannot between them figure out where the money is going inside an off balance GoCo like NI Water, how on earth are they going to track the waste inside government to help pay for investment in our hospitals, schools and infrastructure?

The time for casual (not to mention convenient) scape-goating is over…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty