Thursday 17 April 2014

Why high staff turnover is becoming a problem for NAMA

ONE fear in relation to NAMA's increasingly high rate of staff turnover is that with lots of people leaving the agency, it makes it harder to protect the sensitive information it holds on borrowers and properties -- including how much it paid for its asset.

The best protection we have against that as taxpayers is the threat of prosecution.

NAMA staff are subject to the Official Secrets Act. Contravention of the Act is a criminal offence, anyone found guilty of an offence under it faces up to seven years in jail.

The legislation underpinning NAMA also prohibits breaches of confidentiality. Crucially, those rules apply for ever. They extend equally to current staff and former employees.

But losing staff to the private sector has become a real headache for NAMA -- over the past two years in particular.

For managers it is the loss of skills, not data, that they say is the concern.

In a way it is not surprising. In 2009 and 2010 the agency was a port in the storm for senior property professionals. It needed their skills as valuers and real estate financiers, they, or many of them, needed jobs.

As the market has picked up and as international property buyers have come into Ireland, NAMA has been losing staff. Employees left at a rate of around one in 10 in the first 10 months of 2013.

However, there is some evidence that it's the most senior and sought after staff that have been exiting -- taking their skills back to the private sector.

A good example is Kevin Nowlan, a highly regarded Dublin property professional who is not linked in any way to the controversies now swirling around NAMA.

He worked at property asset management consultancy WK Nowlan before the crash, spent three years with NAMA, and then returned to the family property business in 2012. This month he raised €365m on the stock market through the new Hibernia REIT -- a fund set up to buy property -- tapping into the new international interest in Irish real estate.

The Government and NAMA say there is no issue with staff leaving -- though they would prefer if fewer did. But NAMA officials are not traditional civil servants, with the usual protections in terms of tenure and pensions. As long as they are with NAMA they are out of the loop for the really big private sector salaries and bonuses.

Irish Independent

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