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Officials braced for a tough grilling on NI Water fiasco

MLAS will seek answers today to the contracts debacle at NI Water — with the role of Government expected to come under serious scrutiny.

The issues waiting to be tackled include why NIW board chairman Chris Mellor doubled up as its chief executive for an “interim period” that lasted 14 months.

Today's Assembly Public Accounts Committee hearing will centre on the failure of NI Water to follow key rules on ensuring competition and value for money in contracts.

An investigation into the contractual practices led to Mr Mellor being axed as board chairman earlier this year, along with three fellow directors.

He had doubled up as chairman and acting chief executive for 14 months, up to last summer.

Responsibility for this dual role rested with the Department for Regional Development, NIW's parent body.

In a report to MLAs for today's hearing, the watchdog Northern Ireland Audit Office says it raised concern at Mr Mellor's appointment as interim chief executive on top of his chairman post.

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The Audit Office expresses the view that this dual role “effectively undermined” the independent oversight role of the NIW board.

The overall oversight of NI Water's operations by the Department will be a key focus of the Public Accounts Committee inquiry.

The Department's top civil servant, permanent secretary Paul Priestly, will be among the witnesses taking questions from MLAs at today's hearing.

Alongside him will be NIW's current chief executive Laurence MacKenzie.

Mr MacKenzie ordered audit reviews of contractual practices, leading to an independent report being commissioned.

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