Struggle to appoint new water chief
The appointment of an interim chairman for the crisis-hit Northern Ireland Water company was like "re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic", it has been claimed.
Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy announced he had appointed former head of the Republic's Industrial Development Authority Padraic White to the post. The minister has already appointed interim directors after sacking four board members following a damning report into the Government-owned company's allocation of valuable contracts.
The SDLP's John Dallat said more dramatic action was required at a company which has lurched from one crisis to another since it was formed three years ago, but the Department of Regional Development (DRD) said interim appointments were a vital staging post while full-time office-holders are found.
Mr Dallat, a member of the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee which has scrutinised NI Water, said: "This is re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We are now in the crazy situation where five members of the eight-man board are temporary.
"What does this say about the long-term commitment of the minister towards the delivery of services to the people of Northern Ireland? What are the long-term plans for the delivery of water services? Clearly there is a total lack of understanding of the need for a fully functioning board that has its feet firmly on the ground and is capable of shaping the water service for the future."
In March the minister sacked four NI Water board members after an investigation into how the company awarded contracts, and in June Mr Murphy replaced them with interim non-executive directors.
Mr White will be paid £40,000 per year on the basis of three to four days attendance per month for his new role.
But a Department spokesman said interim appointments were vital: "Given the serious procurement matters relating to the IRT (Independent Review Team) which found 73 cases where £28.4 million of NI Water contracts were awarded without competitive processes, it is vital that a board is in place. An interim board has been appointed for an initial period of up to nine months, until a permanent appointment process is conducted and while all future long-term governance arrangements of water and sewerage services are re-examined."
Mr Murphy said: "I welcome the appointment of Padraic White who will bring his wealth of skills and experience to bear in providing a steadying influence on the Board of NIW following what has been a difficult time for the organisation."
On Mr White's appointment to NI water, however, Mr Dallat said: "I can only offer my sympathy to anyone who is coming in on a temporary basis to sort out a mess that is worsening by the day. I fear that Mr White will be devoting all his time to managing a crisis."