Strong argument against handling over Uisce na hEireann to Bord Gais

Posted by | April 27, 2012 | News | No Comments

According to the Irish Independent….

BORD Gais is probably the best semi-state operating in Ireland today. It is certainly the best among our large semi-states and John Mullins, who is being hounded from his office for no good reason, is probably the best chief executive.

That still does not mean the Government was right to give Bord Gais responsibility for Uisce na hEireann or whatever the nation’s new water provider will eventually be christened.

There are two strong arguments against handing over Uisce na hEireann to Bord Gais.

The first is the example of the National Treasury Management Agency which has been overloaded with unrelated tasks that have sapped morale, distracted senior management and destroyed the NTMA’s reputation.

The temptation for Government is obvious in both cases. The NTMA and Bord Gais are both well run along commercial lines but with a strong ethos of public service.

The alternatives, such as the Department of Finance or the ESB, are grim. Why not ask the outperformer to take on another task and avoid duplication.

The problem with mission creep is that it can destroy the existing organisation. Bord Gais will see its workforce jump from 1,000 people to 5,000 once it takes over the water system.

Most of the new employees will come from a very different culture to the one forged by John Mullins and is akin to hitching a racehorse to a caravan.

The NTMA already resembles one of those Swiss army knives with so many corkscrews, magnifying glasses and saws that it is too heavy to use properly.

Bord Gais could easily go the same way. It already sells gas and electricity while building and operating windmills.

Trying to improve the often dire quality of water in the regions could well overwhelm Bord Gais and destroy its reputation in the same way that NAMA has overwhelmed and destroyed the NTMA at a time when the the country’s future depends on re-entering the bond markets.

Tender

The second strong argument against Bord Gais taking over Uisce na hEireann is simple; no other organisation was effectively allowed to tender for the contract and this is bad practice.

While there were presentations from Bord na Mona, another semi-state interested in taking over the water company, no private company was invited and it would have been impossible for a private company to make a serious offer without firm information about costs.

Before handing over the valuable assets of Irish Water to a company that is mostly owned by the State but also owned by Bord Gais employees, the Government should have made a real effort to value Uisce na hEireann and then considered the alternatives.

The decision to bypass the scores of excellent water companies around Europe and hand the nation’s waterworks to a gas company instead smacks of panic.

Voters are (rightly) crying foul about the cost of meters but the real scandal is that yet again the Government is handing over a valuable asset for nothing and risks destroying another valuable asset at the same time.

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