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Mick Wallace Dail Diary for 10th July
The controversy over NAMA's sale of the Nothern Ireland loan portfolio, Project Eagle, has not gone away. It suited the Government just fine when the PAC said they would bring NAMA before the committee. - It also suited NAMA, whose polished performance was always going to give them some breathing space, given that the PAC, - no disrespect to any of it's members - just doesn't have the wherewithal to hold them to account. Here is a part of my piece on the workings of NAMA from last Tuesday, when we were debating a Housing Bill . -
"Aside from what seem to be a lot of spurious deals where it appears the taxpayer could have fared a great deal better, NAMA is actually boasting that it will make approximately €1 billion in profit over the six to eight year period. That still leaves the taxpayer about €40 billion short. Given that the market has been rising for a while, it is outrageous that more was not realised.
The point the Deputy made about the social dividend and NAMA's failure to provide it is a frightening one. What is really uncomfortable is the fact that we have a serious level of inconsistency in how NAMA has done its business. Sometimes it applies its rules rigidly and sometimes it does not. A simple example is that of the Dublin GAA trying to get hold of the Spawell but failing to do so. It beggars belief that a sporting organisation in Ireland would not have been facilitated and given a little bit of an extra chance. It is not like the GAA was going to make money on it. It intended to provide a social outlet for young people and should have been helped by NAMA. NAMA will argue that it is under an obligation to maximise the potential of the asset for the taxpayer. When it makes that argument, I would like NAMA to explain its approach when a bidder went to buy not the loans but the debt of the Chicago Spire, which was at $78 million plus costs which brought it to approximately $93 million. An investor sought to buy the debt, and this was every penny that was owed to the bank. This was not the reduced value, but the par value.
In other words, this investor was prepared to pay the debt in full but NAMA gave it to Jones Lang LaSalle in New York to sell. This was a site in Chicago. Even if NAMA thought it could get more for it, it was not in New York that it would have got it. It would have been interesting if it had marketed it in Chicago. Why could NAMA not accept the debt being bought out? It is estimated that it was sold for $35 million. NAMA refused $78 million, plus the cost, and it accepted a figure in the region of €35 million. That was claimed to be in the interests of the taxpayer in the same way as NAMA not accepting the bid from Dublin GAA for the Spawell because it claimed it was maximising the potential of the asset.
It is horrendous that NAMA could not deliver housing units for Dublin, in particular where there is such a serious housing crisis. It beggars belief. The argument was spun that certain property was not really suitable. The funny thing about that is that NAMA did not want to give much of the property that was suitable to the State because it was attractive to investors. What has happened is that vulture funds, mostly from the US, were allowed to cherry pick the best of it because NAMA sought to sell the best of it to them. It then considered some of the other property, which was not quite as attractive to the vulture funds, for social or affordable housing.
NAMA is a State body over which governments - this one and the previous one - do not seem to have much control. Issues are raised about it. The idea that the Comptroller and Auditor General has it all in hand beggars belief. I have seen too many things which I do not believe the Comptroller and Auditor General has seen, and I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is honest. It would be an incredible challenge for the Comptroller and Auditor General and the few people working with him to keep tabs on everything that is happening within NAMA. It would be a massive challenge, and it is not only about auditing. Does the Comptroller and Auditor General have expertise in the area of markets, construction and the future potential of assets? Does he have all those people working for him in order to be able to test the waters and ensure NAMA is doing what is best for the taxpayer at every turn? It is asking way to much of the Comptroller and Auditor General to think that he could come up with all those answers. He would be an amazing man, irrespective of how many people he had working with him.
Sadly, there is now the idea that the Committee of Public Accounts can examine this, behind which the Government can hide, as if it is an Oireachtas investigation and the committee will see if everything is all right. That is not what will happen. If those in government want to know the truth and if they really want to know if the taxpayer was best served in these deals, they will eventually have to initiate an independent inquiry into the workings of NAMA. It is extremely important because not only are we dealing with things that have happened - people must be held responsible for what they have done - but there are so many assets still to be sold. Will that be done right? At present, we do not know and given that NAMA remains a secret society, we do not have a real opportunity to see how it operates. An independent investigation might bring us that. There is a great deal of money at stake. The figures are astronomical so it is extremely important the State addresses this.
The Government should not put this off and kick the can down the road. We need an independent inquiry established right now. How it would be structured is an argument for another day. The Government will probably have to bring in some people from outside the country. I refer to many of the more senior players in the services the Government might use. There is such an incestuous nature to much of what goes on this country that the Government will probably have to bring in some external expertise."