Belfast Telegraph

Water firm boss gets backing of directors

By David Gordon

Northern Ireland Water board members have given their backing to the chief executive of the under-fire Government company.

The directors also underlined the importance of an independent review team (IRT) report on contract rule breaches by the organisation.

It was this report which led to four NIW non-executive directors being dismissed by Stormont minister Conor Murphy in March. Disciplinary proceedings have also been launched against NIW employees.

Replacement company board members met with chief executive Laurence MacKenzie yesterday in the wake of renewed controversy about both the boardroom shake-up and the review team's work.

An Assembly Public Accounts Committee is ongoing into the contractual practices, and a senior civil servant has been suspended as part of the fallout from the saga.

In a statement on behalf of fellow NIW directors, company chairman Padraic White said: “Based on everything we've seen and the impressive track record and achievements of the CEO, we're happy to give him our full support and look forward to working with him in the time ahead as CEO of NI Water.”

Mr MacKenzie took over as NIW chief executive last summer and ordered the audit review that would lead to contractual practices being exposed.

It was discovered that £28m of work had been allocated to companies without competitive tendering procedures being followed.

But Mr MacKenzie came under fire at an Assembly hearing last month, with some members of the Public Accounts Committee alleging a friendship between him and IRT member Peter Dixon.

Mr MacKenzie said they were merely business acquaintances. The chief executive was praised at the hearing by committee vice chair Roy Beggs for uncovering the contract role breaches.

Mr Dixon wrote an angry letter to the Assembly Committee over the accusations made against him during the hearing. It later emerged that this letter had been drafted by senior civil servant Paul Priestly. Mr Priestly was suspended pending an inquiry.

Story so far

The Assembly Public Accounts Committee is probing the failure of NI Water to follow rules on ensuring competition for contracts. Some PAC members have challenged the independence of the team that examined the contractual practices for Government. Minister Conor Murphy will appear before MLAs on September 1 to discuss the situation.

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