The public deserves Nama transparency
Published 10/07/2015 | 02:30
They say that the best disinfectant of all is sunlight. The more it shines, the less chance there is for suspicion. It's also a natural guarantee of transparency. That is why it is so much to be regretted that secrecy appears to be part of the DNA of many of our institutions.
But when billions in taxpayers' money are concerned it is imperative that there is complete openness and clarity. Currently, the Public Accounts Committee is looking at claims that almost €10m in an offshore account was intended as a payment to a politician in the North, in connection with the purchase of NAMA's Northern Ireland loan portfolio. Nama sold €5.7bn worth of property loans in the North for €1.6bn. This was a discount of 72pc. US investment fund Cerberus bought it after an auction dubbed Project Eagle in 2014. Irish taxpayers have good reason to ask was this good value - after all, it is they who have taken the hit.
Nama's chairman Frank Daly, commenting on the sale at the PAC yesterday, said that no pressure from any source, political or otherwise, influenced his organisation in regard to the decision to sell the loans. He also said that the process yielded the best outcome for the taxpayer. Perhaps. But the public has no way of ascertaining this.
The organisation has earned a reputation for being guarded, to say the least, and this perception has grown after a swirl of controversies.
Nama's case is not helped by the fact that it doesn't engage with Freedom of Information requests. Given that it handles sensitive financial information, there may be some grounds for this argument.
But the Irish people will have little sympathy with such a position. They were kept in the dark by banks and speculators while billions were massed in debt. They were only let in on the secret when the whole edifice crashed down about their ears, and they were handed the colossal bill for the repairs.
The Irish public has watched on from the wings for five years as Nama did its cost and benefit analysis. We know billions were written down, and that is a reality of all post-crash scenarios.
But as the Taoiseach once said: "Paddy likes to know."