Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Northern Ireland Water: Taxpayers entitled to expect better in times of such austerity

Amid all the technical details and the personalities, it is important to remember some basic facts in the NI Water contract debacle.

NIW is first and foremost a public body. It was set up with large sums of money and, unless or until water charges are introduced, it will continue to be bankrolled by taxpayers.

Even if it does eventually evolve into a self-financing Government-owned company, it will still not be a law unto itself.

The rules on contract awards in the public sector are quite simple — put them out to competition to ensure value for money. There can be occasions where competition is not required, but these should very much be the exception.

And such exceptions should be justified through detailed written approval procedures.

That's not about creating paperwork for the sake of it, but ensuring accountability and protecting the public purse.

It has been clearly established that dozens of NI Water contracts were not competitively tendered, and that approval procedures were breached.

That is what this whole saga is fundamentally about.

It also involved examples of contracts being repeatedly renewed, and consultants receiving lucrative payments.

At a time of austerity and genuine fears about frontline public services, taxpayers are more than entitled to expect better.

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