Meter installer 'paid for no work'

Published Wednesday, 07 May 2014
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A meter installer was paid £111k by Northern Ireland Water for 12,000 appointments where no work was carried out due to erroneous instructions from the public company, a report has found.

Meter installer 'paid for no work'
The PAC said NI Water paid out £111k for work that was aborted due to error. (© Presseye)

The Public Accounts Committee said that 40% of all installation visits had to be aborted due NI Water providing the wrong information.

"The total number of meters installed was 18,000; this equates to two abortive visits for every three installations," the PAC report stated.

The weakness in contract management first flagged in 2010, was outlined in a wider Stormont committee probe into the way an internal fraud investigation was carried out.

The report looked into the review of suspected fraud involving 'invoice slicing', where an NI Water employee was found to have instructed a contractor to limit the value of invoices submitted for payment to below £20,000.

Limiting the value of invoices in this way is regarded as an indicator of fraud.

The internal investigation found no evidence of fraud but did find a number of serious weaknesses in management of the contract.

The Public Accounts Committee however, found that the investigation was seriously flawed.

It found that the investigation did not dig deeply enough and senior management were too quick to close down the investigation based on inadequate and incomplete evidence.

It is difficult to understand how NI Water put itself in a situation where it paid this amount of public money for work not to be done.

Public Accounts Committee

The PAC also reviewed an investigation by the Department for Regional Development into allegations made in 2005 that Roads Service staff had shown favouritism to another contractor over the purchase of road signs.

The DRD probe in 2010 found no evidence of impropriety or deliberate partiality by staff.

However the Stormont committee again found serious failings in how the investigation was carried out.

Chairperson Boyle said: "We were concerned that there was an intolerable delay in investigating the allegations. We were also shocked that over a period of several years, some orders which should have been given to the whistleblower's firm were given to his main competitor, and found it hard to avoid the conclusion that something other than simple error was at play.

"The Committee admires the whistleblower's dogged determination, over many years, to get to the truth, despite the stress that it has caused him, his family and employees."

Ms Boyle said both cases pointed to "fundamental weaknesses in fraud investigation practice".

"These deficiencies can only be addressed by ensuring investigations are led by professional investigators with an understanding of relevant laws," she added.

"The poor quality of these investigations supports the case for establishing a single public sector fraud investigation service."

A spokesperson for NI Water said it was inappropriate to comment on such reports, but noted that all relevant recommendations arising from the 2010 report have already been implemented by the company.

DRD Minister Danny Kennedy said a number of measures have been introduced in his department and its arm's length bodies to address the issues raised.

"I fully support the concept of a specialised fraud investigation unit for the public sector and across all departments," he said.

© UTV News
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2 Comments
Gordon in Tyrone wrote (169 days ago):
It's ironic that the Government make a big issue out of the amount of benefits paid out to the unemployed and sick. And work hard to find ways to limit payments. To the point of coming up with ridiculous reasons to sanction someone who is unemployed. And cut DLA from those who clearly need it. Yet it has been pointed out many times that the amount of benefit overpayment is a fraction of the amount of money misspent by public bodies every year. And unless there's a crack down as harsh as what those on benefits face then this sort of situation will continue. And those responsible will only ever get a slap on the wrist
Paul Baxter in Dromore wrote (170 days ago):
It would nearly appear they were investigating themselves not a good idea.
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