Friday, 27 August 2010


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"I can't believe we're about to reply and he writes again", said a senior member of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland in 2003 as others are suddenly spurred to action!!

So much for equality and a shared future and all that stuff - some citizens are more equal than others :)

Mind you, despite all the scurrying around, conversations with the Department for Social Development - with or without a particular purpose - led to ECNI saying NO to the MP for West Belfast:

The Commission considers on the basis of the evidence obtained in the course of its investigation, that the procedure to define neighbourhoods was not a policy but simply a definitional tool.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Northern Ireland Water and the Consumer Council

Thursday 19 August 2010 

The Consumer Council has commented on this week’s developments regarding investigations into Northern Ireland Water (NI Water). Antoinette McKeown, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council said: “These latest developments are a further blow to consumer confidence, which had already plummeted following the revelations about NI Water’s misuse of public money. Very serious questions must be answered. Earlier this week the Consumer Council asked for and has now secured a meeting with Minister Murphy and we will be pressing him with those questions on consumers’ behalf.

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Antoinette had earlier expressed Council concern about the delay in the Ministerial appointment of the interim Board:

There is potential to further jeopardise governance of and confidence in Northern Ireland Water

As a former member of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland she is well placed to scrutinise the community balance of the new Board and the independence of the Non-Executive Directors (NEDs), not just from Government but from each other. Any taint of cronyism would do further damage.

Were all of the new NEDs selected on the same basis or were some chosen through 'conversations with a purpose'? Did the DRD Permanent Secretary declare an interest viz. that he participated in a private venture in New York which was organised by Máirtin Ó Muilleoir less than a month before the latter was named by the Minister as an interim NED?

Why has an additional NED been added to the Board? How might this change affect decisions taken by the Board? What business and other connections exist amongst the NEDs - and between the NEDs and DRD and NIW Executive Directors - which might limit their independence?

Let's hope the Consumer Council continues to ask all those governance questions of the Minister, the DRD and Northern Ireland Water - in the public and the consumer interest.

Available for download on Scribd

Added 27 August 2010

CCNI Press Office: "We're planning to issue a detailed statement on all the issues once we've had our meeting with Conor Murphy in the middle of next week and put all of our questions and concerns to him."

Sam McBride in today's News Letter has drawn attention to Antoinette McKeown's personal support for NIW's beleaguered Chief Executive, Laurence MacKenzie, during the course of the Independent Review Team's investigation and the parallel 'deep dive' NIW study.

This lack of separation can also be noted in the Chief Executives Forum where Ms McKeown and Kieran Donnelly,  CEO of the Northern Ireland Audio Committee, who can be considered to represent the public interest, can be found in close proximity to the likes of Laurence MacKenzie and a bevy of Stormont's Permanent Secretaries.

How will the Minister react to questions being posed by the Consumer Council when its Chief Executive has now got caught up in the NIW fiasco?

Added September 1, 2010

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"The Consumer Council Chief Executive and Chair met today (1 September) with Minister Conor Murphy to put their questions, concerns and demands to him following recent revelations about the handling of an independent review of Northern Ireland Water’s (NI Water) contracts issuing practices."

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Department for Regional Development - (More) Records Missing in Action

A request was made for copies of correspondence between the Department for Regional Development (DRD) and other Government departments relating to the Rathlin ferry procurement contract; it was submitted in October 2008 as mentioned in the White letter.

A request was made to the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) at a later date and CPD sent some emails that were exchanged between CPD and DRD. These emails were not included in the earlier reply from DRD. In response to a query, DRD replied that it was too late to treat it as a complaint. However, only Mystic Meg would have been able to complain about emails that ordinary mortals didn't know existed.

Were these contentious emails submitted to those who carried out the investigations into the ferry contract and other matters? The investigations cost £55, 000 yet it appears that they can't be quality assured. It's already been established through a series of House of Lords questions that the MV Canna operated for a period of time without a valid passenger certificate yet the investigators were unable to acquire such information. The investigations were completed in December 2008 yet they have not yet been scrutinised by the Department for Regional Development or the Public Accounts Committee.

Brian White acknowledges that the investigators were critical of DRD record keeping. Presumably they would not be impressed by the failure to provide a TRIM reference number for this correspondence and by its tone.

Added 25 August 2010

Today's CPD FOI response clearly indicates that the Rathlin ferry procurement investigators saw and examined the CPD/DRD correspondence. Why did they not refer to it in their December 2008 report? When will the Committee for Regional Development and/or the Public Accounts Committee scrutinise the report.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Northern Ireland Water - Missing Executive Team Minutes - Departure of David Gilmour

Aye Minister: "Minutes? It feels more like weeks and months!"

The following is from a link on the Northern Ireland Water website to that of the Information Commissioners Office.

Who we are and what we do

Organisational information, structures, locations and contacts.
We would expect information in this class to be current information only.   
  • Roles and responsibilities
Companies should be providing outline and detailed information about their roles and responsibilities, and the roles and responsibilities of people working in them at senior level. It should indicate the relationship with the public authority owning the company.  
  • Articles of Association
  • Board membership
Identification of and biographical details of Board members. Biographical details that are not work related should be published only with consent.  
  • Senior executives
Identification of, responsibilities of and biographical details those making strategic and operational decisions about providing the company’s services.  Biographical details that are not work related should be published only with consent.   
  • Staff structure
  • Contact points
Where possible, give named contacts.  

What we spend and how we spend it

Financial information relating to projected and actual income and expenditure, procurement, contracts and financial audit.
The minimum we would expect is that financial information for the current and previous financial year should be available.
  • Annual accounts
  • Loans sanctioned
  • Procurement procedures
  • Staff and board members’ allowances and expenses  
Details of the allowances and expenses that can be incurred or claimed.  It should include the total of the allowances and expenses incurred by or paid to individual senior staff and management board members by reference to categories. These categories should be produced in line with the company’s policies, practices and procedures and will be under headings like travel, subsistence and accommodation.

What our priorities are and how we are doing

Strategies and plans, performance indicators, audits, inspections and reviews.
We would expect information in this class to be available at least for the current and previous three years.
  • Any reports indicating main priorities and progress against them
  • Annual Report

How we make decisions

Decision making processes and records of decisions.
We would expect information in this class to be available at least for the current and previous two years.
  • Minutes of meetings of the Board
We would expect board minutes and the minutes of similar meetings where decisions are made about providing services to be readily available. This excludes information that is properly regarded as private to the meeting.

Departure of David Gilmour, former NIW Executive, and some minutes issues

What and who do the Northern Ireland Water fiasco and the Rathlin ferry saga have in common? Are there discernible common elements of behaviour?


Murphy (6.48 mins into his piece on UTV player): “.. so the core issue is here is that attention my attention was brought to the fact, initially in relation to one contract that there was something on-toward going on within NIW and I asked for further inquiries into that and that turned up 73 contracts with £24.5 million of awarding of contracts which couldn’t be defended which was done in an improper fashion”

[edited]When was the Minister first made aware of the fact that something on-toward was going on within NIW and by whom? When did he ask for these further inquiries and what was the chain of communication that led to them being carried out? It's not always clear from the July 1 PAC session who is initiating decisions and who is facilitating them.

Added August 18

Online minutes for the fortnightly NIW Executive Meetings are to be brought up-to-date next week. A decision on Board minutes is awaited. A clue to the discontinuation of the publication of the minutes from November 16, 2009, may lie in an email that was sent from MacKenzie to Dixon, an excerpt of which has been published in the PAC record for July 1, 2010:

There are some sensitive souls in here. For example, I say that all future consultancy expenditure has to be approved, In advance, by me — they tell me I am being autocratic — I say — get used to It!

Added 3 September

David Gilmour gave a presentation to the Northern Ireland Water Forum on the 20th May 2009. He expected £19 m savings by year end, some way ahead of the Assembly target, and during the course of the year, in association with Mellor, had nearly halved the expenditure on consultants.

He admitted that their information system on ordering had been woeful but expected the tried and tested Oracle P2P eordering system to be live by the end of June 2009.

So what has all the fuss been about and why were Gilmour’s services disposed of? Will PAC call him to give evidence, if he is willing to participate in such an 'illuminating' inquiry? After all, he was at the heart of procurement.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Police Service of Northern Ireland - More Manpower Statistics Have Gone AWOL

Back in January 2010 I drew attention to the removal of the Patten Establishment figures from the PSNI website. These figures provided a useful comparison between the Patten recommendations for the size of a 'peacetime' police service and the number of full time qualified officers currently in post. The removal of the figures followed soon after what I've been told was a robust exchange between the Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, and some members of a political party. The politicians had decided to challenge a shortfall in police numbers.

I've recently checked the monthly manpower statistics and noted that no such statistics have been published since May 1, 2010 - which is three months ago. This pattern would indicate that PSNI management is unwilling to be open and transparent about its manpower resources.


Police Service of Northern Ireland - A Survival Plan? [14 December 2013]

Saturday, 7 August 2010

A Quiet Night in the Port

Portballintrae and Black Rock Strand

Have the natives and potential visitors given up on Summer 2010? Have they gone in search of sun and shangri-la in foreign climes? Bushmills was dead, Portballintrae much the same and Black Rock Strand was almost empty yet it was a beautiful evening with a marvellous sunset.

Friday, 6 August 2010

No Dogs on Margy Strand, Ballycastle?

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No Dogs. Well, that's what it says on the sign leading to the strand. 

This morning a listener rang the Nolan Show on Radio Ulster. 

He drew attention to the sign and claimed that a dog had urinated on a windbreak which he'd set up on the Margy strand recently. I went for a short stroll early this afternoon and spotted eight dogs: three on the leash, two on and off the leash and three not on the leash. There were also about twenty five people, mostly children.

Two visitors from Co Clare were a little puzzled by the No Swimming/Bathing Only sign.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Northern Ireland Water Fiasco - Some FOI and Other Documents - Right said Fred

The Northern Ireland Water fiasco and the Rathlin Ferry saga pose serious questions about Northern Ireland governance in general and that of the Department for Regional Development in particular.

Fred Cobain, Chairperson of the Committee for Regional Development, on 10 December 2008, "Although the report indicates that there was no evidence of manifest error in the award of the contract, the Committee has serious concerns that;

  • there was no clear and transparent evidence trail to support this procurement; and
  • the mistakes made and surrounding circumstances provided scope for misunderstanding and contributed to perceptions of wrongdoing.

The Department told the Committee that it accepts the report recommendations and that appropriate action, including training, is required to begin to repair the damage caused to public confidence in the public procurement process.

The Committee has decided to schedule time in its work programme in early 2009 to more carefully consider the report findings. Undoubtedly there are lessons to be learned. Today’s session is the beginning of the process, and we are looking forward to working with the Department in improving and enhancing its performance in this area, and improving public confidence.

The Committee welcomes the publication of the Department for Regional Development’s independent investigation, and the speed with which the investigation was conducted."

Since then CRD SILENCE and it seems DRD governance problems continue with limited let or hindrance.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Scam Linked to AOL and British Council slash plugins slash user slash dose slash ready slash aol slash billing-center slash bill.html

This hyperlink leads to a webpage soliciting personal information and credit card details whereas leads to a webpage under construction. This webpage carries logos for the British Council and the UK government's Department for International Development.

The site is registered to Alexander Kahi, DairyLearn Project, P. O. Box 12227, Nakuru, NA, Kenya