Monday 18 November 2019

Philip Ryan: Taxpayers footing the bill for hefty salaries at agency

Nama has fought tooth and nail against attempts to gain a clearer understanding of how they are spending our money, writes Philip Ryan

OPERATING under a veil of secrecy, Nama has continually refused to divulge details of how it spends millions of euros of taxpayers' money.

The State's "bad bank" has fought tooth and nail against attempts made by the media and opposition politicians to gain a clearer understanding of how the agency is spending our money.

The State's super-quango is exempt from scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act and senior staff are said to be vehemently opposed to the organisation coming under legislation currently being drawn up by the Government.

Headed by chief executive Brendan McDonagh, Nama is tasked with unravelling €74bn worth of failed property deals and restoring the country's banking system to what it once was.

Last year, the administration cost of sifting through billions of euros of bad debt dumped on the agency by zombie banks set the State back €162m.

Mr McDonagh, who has in the past claimed he is in negative equity, was paid €430,000 last year for his work but this year took a 15 per cent pay cut bringing him down to the still very handsome salary of €365,500. The CEO is also entitled to bonuses up to 60 per cent of his salary but has waived his right to this contractual agreement since he took office.

The 214 staff responsible for clearing up our State-funded banks' balance sheets earn an average pay package of €103,000, while three employees, excluding Mr McDonagh, earn above the Government imposed €200,000 pay cap.

A total of 18 Nama officers earn between €150,001 and €200,000 a year and another 69 are paid more than €100,000.

In a typically cryptic fashion, the State agency finally admitted to the Sunday Independent last week that it has been forking out taxpayers' cash for company cars and health insurance policies for their high-earning staff.

A spokesman said: "Nama confirms that health insurance and/or cars are included in the remuneration packages of selected staff, depending on the nature of their role within the organisation."

Nama's €153,778-a-year chairman Frank Daly told this newspaper recently that the agency was forced to shell out big wages because staff are continuously being poached from the bad bank.

"In the past few months, we have certainly lost half a dozen key people, simply because they are being poached," he said.

Former Nama executive Enda Farrell was one of those to jump ship when he left to work for the UK-based real estate investment management firm, Forum Partners, in April.

The board Mr Daly chairs costs a few quid too -- last year it cost the State €618,234 in fees and a further €60,833 in expenses.

The bulk is paid to the chair of the risk management committee, Dr Steven Seelig, who jets in from America to attend meetings at the Treasury Building in Dublin.

A large percentage of Nama's administration bill has been paid out to accountancy practices, law firms and property valuation companies. Nama, of course, would not freely produce details of how much they paid these hugely rich companies.

Rather, parliamentary questions have forced the banking quango into revealing what companies were cashing Nama cheques.

The county's top legal firms have shared in a €27.5m bonanza since Nama's inception. Arthur Cox Solicitors has received €3m to date; international legal firm Hogan Lovells got €2.9m and Allen and Overy took in €2.4m.

Nama has also spent €13.4m on property valuations and most controversially the highest earning firm, Jones Lang Lasalle, is the former workplace of board member John Mulcahy.

Elsewhere, auditing firms such as Deloitte and Touche and PriceWaterHouse Coopers have raked in €2m from Nama.

Sunday Independent

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