Belfast Telegraph

Report calls for NI Water rethink

A damning report on Northern Ireland Water (NIW) has sparked fresh calls for Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy to rethink his handling of the crisis-hit company.

The report by the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) slammed the mishandling and abuse of tender procedures on projects worth a total of £46 million.

But the PAC also hit out at Mr Murphy's Department of Regional Development (DRD), linking it to a litany of failures, and criticising a key official it accused of influencing an independent probe of the water company.

PAC chairman Paul Maskey highlighted the inadequate safeguards in place at NIW and said: "The governance arrangements established by DRD for NI Water represented the worst of all worlds."

Committee member John Dallat said the review of NIW had compiled the "most damning report ever produced" in his time on the PAC.

The investigation pre-dates the winter crisis that saw thousands of homes left without water supply and ended in the resignation of NIW chief executive Laurence MacKenzie. That controversial episode is now the subject of a separate investigation.

But Mr Dallat said: "The two volumes of this report running to over one thousand pages illustrates the depth of the work undertaken by the PAC to get to the bottom of several issues which have rocked NI Water to its foundations."

The report - Performance, Procurement And Governance In NI Water - is highly critical of the Government-owned company's failure to properly tender projects worth millions, but it also finds failings on the part of the department.

The PAC criticised DRD permanent secretary Paul Priestly, who was suspended pending an investigation of his handling of a review into NIW. The review's findings on the mishandling of procurement led Mr Murphy to sack four board members last year.

Mr Dallat said the independent review team "comes out of the report very badly" and claimed the impartiality of its findings had been undermined.

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