Housing Executive: Chair jumps before ministerial statement tomorrow…

Brian Rowntree, chair of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive resigned on Friday, although the news was only released today.  It’s thought to be related to a Ministerial statement that ought to make tomorrow’s Assembly session rather more interesting than normal.

It comes on foot of the first of several forensic examinations of the Executive’s books (the Audit Office is due to report later in the year)..

For the BBC, Julian O’Neil references an independent report on contracts carried out by chartered accountancy firm ASM Howarth, who amongst other services specialise in forensic accountancy.

This allows them not simply see how figures add up, but to look at whether and how well contracts are managed. It’s thought that this it is what will feature prominently in tomorrow’s statement.

It began its work in autumn 2011, following the termination of the Housing Executive’s £7m-a-year contract with the Red Sky amid allegations of overcharging and sub-standard work.

But the report is believed to have thrown up issues surrounding invoicing and inspections of work relating to other contractors.

At the time, the Housing Executive was resistent to any suggestion from the Minister that the problems related to its own role in handling all contractors rather than just the east Belfast based, Protestant majority workforce of Red Sky.

He launched his forensic investigation of how the NIHE handles contracts in the teeth of a voluble protest from his predecessor Alex Attwood,  the chairman of the Social Development Committee Alex Maskey, Jim Allister and the public service union NIPSA.

At the time, Pete noted the stand off

Mr McCausland accused the Housing Executive of being aggressive and said a letter he received from its chairman sounded like “a declaration of war”.

“If someone declares war, I’m not going to back away from that. I’m going to continue doing want I want to do, which is to get to the bottom of the contracts issue,” he said.

“It’s clear from all the evidence that there are serious problems in the Housing Executive as regards the management and monitoring of contracts.”

As Chris also noted that the action against Red Sky took place after a two year investigation which appears to have exonerated the NIHE and put all of the blame on a single contractor

Slugger understands that  the Minister’s independent investigation has discovered that the same practices have been ongoing with other contractors, with some of them found to been even worse.

This suggests, despite their vehement denials at the time, that there was a failure in the NIHE’s accounting and validation processes.

We await to see if there is any coherent explanation as to why Red Sky was picked out from all other contractors for particular investigation.

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