Tuesday 21 November 2017

Q&A by Donal O'Donovan

Q: What is NAMA?

A: The National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) is one of -- if not the biggest -- property companies in the world. It was set up in 2009 to help cope with the banking crisis.

Shifting big property loans out of the banks to be sorted through by NAMA would free up the banks to lend, it was thought.

The debts of around 800 borrowers, who between them owed €72bn, were transferred into NAMA.

Borrowers had no say in their loans moving across.

NAMA acquired the loans for €32bn and was given 10 years to try to claw that back by working through the debts -- selling land or developing property as it sees fit.

Budgets of billions of euro and control of assets that including prized properties in Ireland, the UK and beyond, makes the small agency of around 300 staff very powerful.

Q: Why is it so secretive?

A: Top officials at the agency say it is not secretive at all. The annual reports and details about properties on its books published by the agency make it more transparent than rivals, they claim.

However, NAMA chiefs say the kind of personal and commercial data they have access to -- about personal debts and individuals' bank accounts and properties -- means they have a responsibility to be protective of information.

The agency says it is why it has resisted efforts to make it subject to Freedom of Information legislation of the kind that other state bodies must comply with.

Q: So have they been successful in keeping control of that information?

A: NAMA's reputation took a hit when it emerged that an official called Enda Farrell had leaked a large amount of confidential information to people abroad who were potential buyers of NAMA loans.

The agency called in the gardai and took a civil case in the courts to find out just what had been leaked.

The case came to light after it was found that Mr Farrell had bought a house from his employer NAMA. The bigger concern was that he did it without the agency knowing.

But subsequent investigations revealed how he had also leaked a large volume of information to potential buyers of NAMA assets oversees.

The case showed inadequate controls over staff and over control of information, which the agency says have since been addressed.

Irish Independent

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