Timeline of events at NI Water

  • Published

BBC News Online looks at the timeline of events surrounding Northern Ireland Water's procument policy and the fallout from an independent investigation into its activities.

October 2009

Recently appointed NI Water chief executive Laurence MacKenzie becomes aware of a contract he believed merited investigation.

He also orders a probe into other contracts, mainly consultative work, which may not have been competitively tendered.

The internal audit continues throughout the autumn of last year.

January 2010

Mr MacKenzie receives the results of the internal audit, which pointed to instances of "single tender actions" having been awarded "inappropriately".

He then informed the board of Northern Ireland Water and the Department of Regional Development.

The permanent secretary at the DRD, Paul Priestly, agrees with Mr MacKenzie that an independent review team should carry out an investigation.

At one point, Mr MacKenzie is so perturbed by events that he tenders his resignation, only to later withdraw it.

February 2010

The independent review team's report finds that there had been a "serious breakdown in the governance and control framework" of the company.

It identifies 24 contracts where appropriate governance procedures "had not been followed".

The review team also establishes a breakdown in relations between the board of NI Water and its chief executive Laurence MacKenzie.

March 2010

Following the review team's report, Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy moves to sack four members of the NI Water board, including the chairman, Chris Mellor.

The minister says that the conduct of NI Water could leave it open to legal action.

The other three board members who have been dismissed are Ruth Thompson, Declan Gormley and John Ballard. Mr Gormley speaks publically about his anger at the decision.

July 2010

It emerges that the controversy surrounds 71 contracts worth about £28m.

The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee begins hearings on the ongoing controversy. Some MLAs pursue a tough line of questioning with one member of the independent review team, Phoenix Gas chief executive Peter Dixon.

Some of the questions focus on whether Mr Dixon is a friend of Laurence MacKenzie and consequently whether the review was truly independent.

Mr Dixon subsequently writes an angry letter condemning the line of questioning as "disgraceful".

One MLA, John Dallat, then writes to the Phoenix Gas chairman, Sir Gerry Loughran, insisting it was Mr Dixon who was out of order and branding his remarks "outrageous".

Sir Gerry agrees that the MLAs were pursuing a legitimate line of questioning and Mr Dixon's letter is subsequently withdrawn.

During his appearance at the committee, Mr Priestly describes NI Water's procurement process before the sacking of the board members as "shocking and indefensible".

August 2010

UTV uncovers documents which purport to show that Mr Priestly was given an early draft of the independent review team's report and asked for changes to be made to it.

Those changes are alleged to have directed criticism on procurement matters away from the DRD and on to the NIW directors.

Mr Priestly is suspended, pending the completion of the Public Accounts Committee's investigation.

Conor Murphy says that after a telephone conversation he has had with Mr Priestly he backs the suspension.

Mr Priestly is replaced by Malcolm McKibbin, the permanent secretary at the Department of Agriculture and Regional Development.