DUP minister Nelson McCausland is facing renewed calls for his resignation after a building contractor he accused of fraud was cleared of any wrongdoing.
In an embarrassing climbdown following an investigation and months of negotiations, the Housing Executive (NIHE) has admitted the north Antrim firm Dixons had not been overpaid - and is believed instead to be owed money from the public purse.
Dixons was among four firms - including PK Murphy, Bann and Mascott - which the Social Development Minister “named and shamed” in the Assembly as part of an alleged £18m maintainance work fraud.
It also emerged yesterday the other three contractors had agreed to pay £670,000 to the Executive - a fraction of the £18m total originally given to MLAs by Mr McCausland.
Mr McCausland has insisted he told MLAs figures given to him by HE chair Donald Hoodless.
The claims centred on £172m worth of maintainance work carried out on around 60,000 homes between 2008 and 2012.
Sinn Fein MLA Fra McCann said: “At the time we stated that the minister needed to explain where this figure came from but he refused to do so. It’s clear that Nelson McCausland got this very wrong and he should now consider his position.”
UUP MLA Michael Copeland argued the minister told the As
sembly it was not clear “whether what has taken place in the past is a result of incredible incompetence or wilful corruption”.
“I would now ask the minister whether he too was showing ‘incredible incompetence or wilful corruption’ in his comments?”
TUV leader Jim Allister last night insisted the minister could not take refuge in arguing the mistake had been “inadvertent” and asked when he would quit.
“In a blaze of publicity Mr McCausland rushed to the Assembly. Under the lull of the summer recess, it has been publicly admitted that the true figure was nowhere near £18m, but only £670,000 - approximately 1/30th of the sum claimed by the minister.”
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said it was “imperative” he apologise.
Mr McCausland said the end of the negotiations marked “a turning point” and added: “It is now time to move on and to put this experience behind us.
“I wish to pay credit to and recognise the good faith and approach taken by the contractors in seeking to resolve this matter.”
He added that he believed his party leader Peter Robinson had confidence in him.
Mr Hoodless said the NIHE “is confident that there will be no repetition of these failings as new rigorous procedures have been put in place to ensure that value for money is achieved with regard to maintenance contracts”.
“The Housing Executive and contractors will now work constructively together to deliver new programmes of improvement work for the benefit of tenants across Northern Ireland.”
2010: Housing Executive made aware of suspected overpayments to contractors
September, 2011: Executive Board calls for a full investigation into the issue
May, 2013: Board is advised that estimated overpayment totals £18m
June, 2013: 3 Firms are “named and shamed” in the Assembly