NI Water crisis: “once this information is in the public domain, it may undermine your perceived independence…”

Following an FOI request, BBC NI’s Stephen Walker reports that the NI Commissioner for Public Appointments, Felicity Houston, has raised concerns about the OFMDFM appointments to the latest ‘independent’ review of NI Water with the head of the NI Civil Service.  That’s in addition to the Commissioner’s previously expressed concern about the NI Regional Development Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy’s appointments to the interim NI Water Board.

From the BBC report

In a bizarre twist, staff assisting Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead’s inquiry wrote to the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

In the email Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead’s team wanted to know how the non-executive directors of Northern Ireland Water were appointed – the very jobs that Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead were considered for.

In her response, Felicity Huston told the two investigators: “Both of you were considered for appointment to the interim board by both DRD – the department you are now reviewing – and Minister Murphy.”

The letter states that Heather Moorhead was on a long list of possible directors which was submitted to Minister Murphy, and Phil Holder was interviewed for the post of chair of the interim board

Felicity Houston then wrote to Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead : “Although your appointment is not regulated by me it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to this situation.

“I believe that once this information is in the public domain, it may undermine your perceived independence, or the ‘external’ nature of your review.”

The documents also show that the Commissioner for Public Appointments raised her concerns with the head of the Civil Service.

As I said of the leaked draft PAC report into NI Water

The First and deputy First Ministers clearly haven’t learned the importance of not appointing individuals to ‘independent’ reviews who “could be perceived as having a conflict of interest.”

The BBC report ends with

The BBC sent a series of questions to Heather Moorhead.

She declined to comment and referred us to the Northern Ireland Executive’s press office.

We also sent questions to the Office of First and Deputy First Minister and the Department For Regional Development.

We have not received a reply.

Indeed.