NI Water: PAC chair complains about leaked report to UTV…

As Pete noted earlier, the chair of Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee, Paul Maskey is not best pleased that a copy of that committee’s draft report has found its way into the hands of Jamie Delargy of UTV.  Not surprisingly, since as Maskey points out, it is not yet been official adopted by the committee.

Mr Maskey is on record as saying that in his role as PAC chair he has to leave his political baggage at the door. Yet as Martina Purdy has pointed out, he was running party statements supporting the Minister on the NI Water story at the very same time his committee was actively investigating the same matters during the summer.

Hardly consistent with that supposed non partisan role.

It’s perfectly legitimate for the chair to question the leak of his committee’s draft report. Although it is ironic he should complain so publicly when his own party’s minister felt it was appropriate to sack four non executive members of the Board on foot of emerging data from an internal audit, which was only finalised months afterwards.

There has already been one case in this story where the Department has sought to lean on a supposedly independent group to get the result they wanted. Mr Maskey should be very careful that he is not seen to be adding to any external pressure on his committee to go lightly on his own Minister.

Rather we would ask him to pay re-read what we said last summer shortly after Slugger first stumbled upon this story:

As member of the same party as the Minister, PAC chair Paul Maskey may feel some natural reluctance to press the committee’s case as hard as he might otherwise feel inclined. And his party will no doubt come under external pressure from some of the parties involved. But he’s not the first Stormont MLA to find himself in that position.

He should try to seize to the initiative and lead his committee’s charge from the front. Any embarrassment (and we don’t believe it would be anything more than that) caused the Minister should come second to ‘doing the right thing’.

Every turn in this twisting story has relied on information those in the establishment would rather have kept hidden. As Jamie Delargy makes clear the PAC’s own draft report asks some very serious questions of those institutions whose job it is to keep those folk up to the mark.

After his one way gamble on the high profile sacking of those four Non Executive Directors, Minister Murphy is now down one Permanent Secretary and one Chief Executive. As Krzysztof Wodiczko has noted:

I left  in search of democracy and found it was more like a phantom always shifting and constantly lingering on the horizon. Once it is given to someone, it changes. In fact, it needs to be remade every day. It requires the consistent disruption of silences and the [utterance] of things that people do not want to hear.[Emphasis added]

Congratulations to Jamie Delargy for some of the most significant and outstanding journalistic work of 2011.

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  • Cynic2

    A leaked report? What did he expect?

    A sham fight to distract from shameful incompetence in DRD

    Any sign of a resignation yet? Nah!

  • joeCanuck

    Agree, Cynic2.
    Anyone who thinks that reports etc won’t be leaked is a bit of an idiot.

  • Pigeon Toes

    No.

    There *has* to be leaks. Call it whistle blowing or whatever hell you like, but without the leaks it gets completely watered down, to the point of drivel and corporate twatishness, and worse “not best practice…no evidence to suggest…I am confident….”
    The departments has control of that,

    Elsewhere NIAO had suggested that the then Perm Sec sought legal advice regarding “meting with the individuals concerned”

    NIAO’s hands are also tied by their own remit as auditord.

  • Mick Fealty

    No PT. There will be even more leaks. One of the lessons of this – and a bunch of other leak stories – is that our institutions are becoming a great deal more porous than they have traditionally been.

    Leaders don’t have the same easy capacity to assert autocratic rule on their work forces as they once enjoyed, whether part of the elected or the permanent government. Just running a business is going to become a *little* more like maintaining popular power in a democracy.

    For instance ,tolerance for Mr Priestly’s casual mishandling of whistleblowers in the past (ie, getting away with it), probably contributed to some institutional stupidity in handling these affairs around NI Water.

    If public institutions fritter the loyalty and public service ethics of their staff, then it is inevitable (if they can find someone they can trust in the media or, dare I say it, the blogosphere), that this problem is going to become even more acute for those senior people who see dissent within their workforce as a disciplinary offence rather than an critical organisational advantage.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Presumably this will all end up in court at some point, with DRD and NIW throwing vast sums of public money at a defence against defamation etc

    Those on the various committees (with a few notable exceptions) need to take a long hard look at the type of scrutiny that is supposedly within their remit.

  • Cynic2

    Problem is that there is no opposition and therefore no scrutiny – we therefore have a breeding ground that fosters incompetence, mediocrity and will eventually lead to even more corruption. All of this suits the DUP and SF.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Firstly, where are all the puns about leaks!!! this thread is a gift-horse! will start the ball rolling with the obvious…
    “It seems that the pipes aren’t the only thing leaking round stormont”

    Cynic, in this case the “opposition” ie. some members of the PAC committee did do a reasonable scrutiny job, the biggest short coming in this case was the committee chair is of the same party as the minister under scrutiny, this dosn’t happen in the case of other committees but because the PAC is cross departmental this weakness has arisen, it should be rectified after May and in these situations the Vice Chair should take over.

  • Cynic2

    Drumlins

    The committee chair acting in Party interest and not that of the House or the community is just part of the problem. What interest do those in the DUP in this example have in making waves? None at all. There’s an implicit back scratching agreement at the core of the whole systemt.

    This system was negotiated by SF and the DUPs because it cemented both their positions and allowed them to attack other parties with impunity. Health is one of the most politically sensitive budgets so why does it seem to suffer more than say roads or environment in the cuts? Because it has a UUP Minister?

    Will SF scream about this because of the impact on its votes? Well, have you heard it?

    Why is thye gross mismanagement and incompetence in Education tolerated? Because SF will protect the Minister, the DUPs will make a lot of smoke but not push too hard because they have effectively emasculated her and SF wont jump up and down too much about that.It suits everyone – except of course the kids who all leave school with no qualifications but sure its convenient to have the next generation ignorant so they will just vote and not ask too many awkward questions..

    No, We have a Government system that is deliberately designed to support two monoliths – themuns and oursuns – and enable them to corral all support for their flag into their party – something the DUP have done much more successfully than SF for example.

    As for the poor committee chair, how can he do other than represent party interests? They all know that its a sham fight process and if he doesn’t toe the party line he will find his boundaries reorganised or his seat given to someone else

  • Drumlins Rock

    Cynic, I agree, we essentially have coalition government, the SinDup coalition, for opposition we have the SDLP who are good at shouting and getting details to hit them with, but chicken out when the big decisions come, and the UUP who are good at taking a stand to oppose some of the big issues, but usually fail in getting the story across. Both of them are tied to the executive which comes back to haunt them, and here is the big risk, if the SDLP, UUP, and Alliance had one more seat in the executive after May and then formed their own “coalition” we have a split government, which cant work.

    Just as in England Wales & Scotland a vote for the Lib Dems will be seen as a vote for the Conservative too, will people here realise that a vote for the DUP will be as good as a vote for SF and vice versa?

  • Cynic2

    Why cant a split work. The issue is the dynamic in the Executive. Its now ‘dont ask dont tell’ and nothing gets done. An opposition in the Executive might force more deal brokering

  • DC

    No PT. There will be even more leaks. One of the lessons of this – and a bunch of other leak stories – is that our institutions are becoming a great deal more porous than they have traditionally been

    Bit like the water service itself.

    Oh the irony of leaked documents.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Malcolm Mc Kibbin has just stated that DRD can’t find the copy of the Sarah Venning email which she had apparently copied to DRD on 23rd December.

    The Delete button being worn out again?

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/record/committees2010/RegionalDevelopment/110106_NIWaterBriefing.pdf

    “Mr Boylan:
    As regards DRD’s responsibility, did it seek any assurances before the holiday period that NIW
    would be able to deal with a crisis if one arose? Did shareholders or anybody from DRD seek
    any assurance or talk to anybody?
    Ms Venning:
    They would have been copied in to my note, so they would have been covered in the note that I
    issued.”

  • leaks in NIW!
    Whatever next whistleblowing in the police force.

    see 44 minutes 40seconds in

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8180752629847759981#

  • oops 43 minutes in

  • Local Government Officer

    “Leaders don’t have the same easy capacity to assert autocratic rule on their work forces as they once enjoyed, whether part of the elected or the permanent government.”

    Yet I still cannot get my hands on a copy of the 2010 Independent Review Report of the NI Policing Board, to date the costs of which are £25,924…

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed. Just because the conditions have changed doesn’t mean the institutions have found the appropriate response yet.

    I our consulting work this is a thing we hammer over and over again: the two corporate worlds, inner and outer, are colliding.

    Pretending otherwise will either stunt your capacity to communitcate, or bring you into a whole world of recurring pain.

  • tacapall

    ” except of course the kids who all leave school with no qualifications but sure its convenient to have the next generation ignorant so they will just vote and not ask too many awkward questions”.

    Absolute nonsense.

    “The committee chair acting in Party interest and not that of the House or the community is just part of the problem”.

    A bit like the police investigating the police or a British Judge investigating the British Government, no point in having enquiries if you cannot control the outcome.

    I wonder if Conor Murphys counterpart in Queensland is going through a similar witch hunt.

  • joeCanuck

    Whistle blowing in the police force

    Great pun Articles.

  • Mick Fealty

    Tacapall,

    You’ll be coming out in sympathy with Brian Cowen next!! 😉 Is no politician culpable for his actions (or in this case, passive inaction)?

    It will be interesting to see what Paul Maskey does in relation to the PAC’s final report. Will he back it? Or if it retains some of the elements of the draft version, will he dissent from it?

    He’s in a genuinely tough position.

  • tacapall

    Lol Mick Im not that blinkered. Murphy will go but not at the behest of those who are just as incompetent and if truth be told, Attwood got off lightly by the media and those who are calling for Murphys head on a stick. The leaking of the report is just another whip across Sinn Fein’s back, Maskey has no other option but to back it otherwise another few lashing are on the way.

  • Cynic2

    “I wonder if Conor Murphys counterpart in Queensland is going through a similar witch hunt”

    If he sacked God and the Archangels then appointed a new Deity and Team then got the floods, he should be

  • Cynic2

    “You’ll be coming out in sympathy with Brian Cowen next!!”

    It’s a simple philosophy. If its bedecked in green white and orange and carrying a copy of An Phoblacht, hes for it!!!!

  • Pigeon Toes

    ” (or in this case, passive inaction)?”

    Mick, I thought he wast being hailed for his “swift and decisive action”

    http://www.anphoblacht.com/news/detail/39639

    Certainly in March he was very willing to spin himself as troubleshooter. Then again he allegedly hasn’t read that draft report and is very selective in his recollection of media reports.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “The people charged by me with protecting the public interest in NIW’s affairs were held by me to be accountable and I took appropriate action.”

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/sacking-northern-ireland-water-bosses-was-the-right-thing-to-do-says-conor-murphy-14915958.html

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/top-civil-servant-apologises-for-losing-burst-pipes-memo-15060109.html

    Venning’s memo has been found again…

    “A senior civil servant has apologised to a Stormont committee after a crunch memo on the burst pipes crisis was lost — and then found again.

    Malcolm McKibbin, the permanent secretary of the Department for Regional Development, said he was sorry for the confusion after he and Minister Conor Murphy told the committee on Wednesday that the memo was missing.

    The note, sent on December 23, said NI Water staff and contractors have been put on “high alert in readiness for a Major Incident Plan response to thaw conditions predicted to set in during the Christmas weekend and Public Holiday period”.

  • PAC backs its chairman:

    “The Committee is extremely disappointed that the draft report was leaked to the media and given widespread media coverage before it had been considered let alone agreed by the Committee. The Committee has been undermined by this development. Inquiries are ongoing to ascertain the source of the leak.

    The Public Accounts Committee has a unique role in the parliamentary accountability process. That is not to assign political responsibility but to determine financial accountability for waste and misuse of taxpayers’ money.

    The Committee wishes to reiterate that its process is not complete. This Committee understands that the public and the media find these matters intensely interesting. But selectively quoting from a document that is not finalised or agreed is irresponsible and unfair to the people at the heart of the inquiry. In the public interest and for the integrity of its process the Committee insists that it will not be deflected.”

    Source http://goo.gl/S4NY3