NI Water: Isn’t it time we were told what’s really been going there?

The Belfast Telegraph have a special piece in yesterday’s paper, which notes at the end just how little the general public understand the Northern Ireland Water story. Hardly surprising, since it has become almost the definitive insider’s insider story.

Yet it is striking too that so few in the press appear able to convincingly explain the context for the first ever suspension of a Permanent Secretary in the history of Northern Ireland.

Nor why the Northern Ireland Consumer Council would withdraw from its partnership agreement, not simply with NI Water, but with all Water stakeholders. That includes the Minister and DRD.

The press’s current line is that it is those embarrassing, leaked emails is why the Northern Ireland Consumer Council withdrew from its water partnership agreement. But 1, their chief executive has already publicly stated they feel they might have been deliberately misled. And 2, NI Water is not the only partner to that agreement.

Fellow blogger, Belfast JJ has noted one way in which the NI Consumers Council was certainly misled by DRD. But do they have other, more serious suspicions? If the Consumer Council were to make the details of its concerns public it would leave fewer journalists in the dark as to what is really going on here.

Then there is the whole business of what the true state of governance was within NI Water. Information is currently pouring out of DRD. And any cursory examination of Northern Ireland Water’s performance in driving down costs to the taxpayer appear to be significantly better than other bodies in the hands of DRD.

Meanwhile we hear another executive is in trouble over at the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Despite initiating several investigations, Northern Ireland Water has yet to find anyone they could fire on the executive side. Not that Mr MacKenzie hasn’t done his best to find fault.

It all goes to reinforce Jamie Delargy’s view that this has all been an elaborate charade to find a new Board for a CEO whose self confessed autocratic style tolerates none of the independence that all Non Executive Directors are obliged by law to bring to any business they are appointed to.

And we still have no account for why the only NED to survive was the only one who would have known whether there was a serious breach in the governance rules regarding procurement, since he sat on the Audit Committee.

If the public don’t know what this is all about, it is because at the heart of this matter is an internal and external reporting crisis.

Remember DRD – apparently – cannot (efficiently) track Water Service expenditure pre April 1997, and that no one knew about the procurement breaches affected contracts to the value of £28 million (translated by Slugger to about £0.5 million). This included the sacked Board.

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