NI Commissioner for Public Appointments: “We couldn’t find out how people had ended up being interviewed…”

It’s worth highlighting the comments by the NI Commissioner for Public Appointments, Felicity Huston, to the BBC NI Spotlight programme last night on the NI Water saga.  From the BBC report

Felicity Huston said: “I was a bit shocked about how chaotic it was considering the importance.”

Mr Murphy said he had full confidence in the process.

However, Ms Huston said it was one of several conducted by DRD she had found to be unsatisfactory.

The chairman of NI Water, Chris Mellor, and three other board members were dismissed after an independent review team found there had been major flaws in the company’s procurement process.

Ms Huston told BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme her office had found an “enormous number of gaps” in the process of appointing replacements.

“We couldn’t find out how people had ended up being interviewed,” she said.

“There were missing records about submissions to ministers where advice is given to a minister on how we might proceed.

“I have to say that I have investigated other public appointment competitions in DRD and been very dissatisfied with them.

“The permanent secretary (Paul Priestly) and I had some full and frank exchange of views about how he was running his appointments.”

Hmm… Weren’t they the Minister’s appointments?

Meanwhile, the Independent Water Review Panel‘s reports are “still sitting on somebody’s shelf somewhere”.

Adds  Despite the Minister’s reported comments to the BBC…  As Nevin has noted in the comments below, the NI Commissioner for Public Appointments’ review of the appointment of the interim Non-Executive Directors is available online.  From the review [pdf file]

My objective in reviewing the Appointment of Interim Non-Executive Directors to NIW was to evaluate whether the principles of my Code had been applied.  Having given the Department an exception to my Code of Practice for Ministerial Public Appointments, this exception did not negate the principles being applied.

Having obtained the available documentation and information from the Department my office undertook this review. Unfortunately I found myself in a position were I was unable to form a view on whether the process was compliant with the principles of my Code as the record-keeping was so sparse and had so many gaps. Therefore the only firm conclusion I can reach is that paragraph 3.31 of my Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments – contemporaneous records of all assessment procedures, deliberations and outcomes must be kept – has not been complied with.

The Minister has been made aware of my findings and has acknowledged my concern admitting that the process should have been handled better. Due to my review of the process the Minister assured me that lessons have been learned and has asked his officials to ensure that such deficiencies are eliminated in future competitions. [added emphasis throughout]

Update  One interesting revelation from the BBC NI Spotlight programme was that the contact from NI Water to Water UK on 31 December 2010, to clarify the mutual aid scheme, came after the Northern Ireland Secretary of State had intervened…