independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Oversight of NAMA 'has been insufficient'

Growing chorus of calls to set up monitoring body with 'real powers'

Eoghan Murphy, Fine Gael deputy for Dublin South-East
Eoghan Murphy, Fine Gael deputy for Dublin South-East

THE crisis that is currently dogging the behemoth National Asset Management Agency (Nama) has been waiting to happen since its inception in 2009.

Repeatedly dogged by accusations of operating behind a veil of secrecy, Nama has struggled to successfully defend its openness and transparency to a largely confused and suspicious political class and media.

On Friday, the agency's chairman Frank Daly and CEO Brendan McDonagh appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to rebut damaging allegations about how it does its business.

After several days of media reports about 'corrupt acts', garda investigations, mysterious dossiers from "whistleblowers", and allegations of wrongdoing by developer Paddy McKillen, Nama had sought an opportunity to combat what Mr McDonagh said was a campaign aimed at destroying it.

Over the course of three hours, both Mr Daly and Mr McDonagh robustly countered the two central allegations that it manipulated property values and that information had been leaked to a competitor of Mr McKillen from within the organisation.

To give an idea of its size, Nama took control of €72bn worth of loans for which it paid a discount price of €32bn using taxpayers' money.

Its plan is to break even by 2020 by working out the loans and selling them off. It controls one of the largest property portfolios in the world.

But given its potential to influence and impact the property market here and in cities such as London and New York, and its huge reliance on professional consultants, there have been persistent calls for the Government to make it more accountable to the Dail and more transparent to the public.

While Mr McDonagh and Mr Daly may have been able to bat away some of the heat of this crisis at the committee, the controversy has led to pressure coming on Michael Noonan to lift the lid on its operations.

Mr Noonan, who was deeply critical of the agency in opposition, saying it had "destroyed the property market", has become one of its loudest champions since taking office and has waved away concerns even from within his own party.

His party colleague Eoghan Murphy, the Fine Gael TD, has successfully argued for a subcommittee of the PAC to concentrate solely on Nama's operations.

"The oversight hasn't been sufficient, and the department needs to up its act in terms of engagement.

"There are legitimate concerns over its operations, particularly when you consider it will also be taking control of €19bn worth of loans from the IBRC," Mr Murphy said.

His PAC colleague, independent TD Shane Ross, has also called for real powers of accountability to be given to an independent body, such as the PAC -- but said that they must be properly resourced in order to perform the task properly.

"The relationship between Nama and the department is too cosy. We should get proper resources and so should the Comptroller & Auditor General.

"It is too important not to have it when you consider the money involved," Mr Ross said.

Irish Independent

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