Senior managers at trouble-hit Northern Ireland Water have been rewarded with huge bonuses worth almost £350,000, it has emerged.
The huge payout was shared between 72 senior managers at the company during the past two years – an average of £4,788 each.
It was part of a near £2m bonus package handed over to staff in that period.
The hefty payouts will spark anger after a winter of discontent which saw tens of thousands of customers left without water for days because of burst pipes.
Last night a spokesperson for NI Water said the company has now frozen bonuses, adding that no payments will be made during the current financial year.
Details of the bonus payments are contained in documents released to this newspaper following a Freedom of Information request.
They reveal that during 2009/10 and 2010/11, 137 bonus payments were made to senior management at the company. These totalled £344,797.
During the same two-year period, the total number of bonus payments was £3,010 with the overall payout totalling £1,953,587. NI Water said this related to work done in the 2008/09 and 2009/10 years.
SDLP Assembly member Patsy
McGlone said he was astonished by the payouts.
“This is a company which was heavily criticised in a Public Accounts Committee report for some of its practices and procedures.
“I’ve no idea what the criteria is for these bonuses, and who sanctioned, authorised and approved them – but I will certainly be finding out,” he said.
NI Water faced a torrent of complaints over the Christmas and New Year period after customers were left without supplies for several days because of burst pipes.
A subsequent Consumer Council report claimed its major incident plan failed to deal effectively with issues such as co-ordination, communication with customers and ensuring people most at risk received adequate support.
It noted that on December 28, there were 403,420 attempts to get through to NI Water's customer relations centre. However, just 3,344 of these calls — less than 1% — were answered.
Chief executive Lawrence MacKenzie later resigned.
NI Water has confirmed he did not receive a bonus in either year.
A spokesperson for the company said: “Seventy-two managers received payments over the two-year period.
“The bonuses paid relate to work undertaken in 08/09 and 09/10 period. They are not relevant to the Christmas/New Year period just passed.”
Northern Ireland Water was criticised for failing to prepare properly for disruption following December's heavy snowfall.
Complaints flooded in from the public about a lack of information as 40,000 homes and businesses were without supplies.
Phone lines jammed and the company website lacked up-to-date information.