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Shane Ross: Dick Turpin economics

WHEN in trouble, raid the peoples' pension fund.

It worked wonders. When money was needed to rescue the banks there was only one pot of gold left. Back in 2009 the Fianna Fail lads pillaged the peoples' pension fund. New laws were rushed through the Dail to allow them to steal billions to prop up the banks. By the time they had finished pumping over €20bn into AIB and Bank of Ireland there was little left for pensions.

But, bravo, the banks were safe. The minister for finance himself had directed that the National Pensions Reserve Fund (NPRF) should be converted into a bankers' slush fund.

Luckily, there was still enough loot left at the bottom of the pot for a bit of infrastructure. Not much, mind you, but enough to install the water meters.

Last week we found out that the Fine Gael/Labour Government was seizing the relics of the NPRF to pay for the installation of water meters. Ministers painted a rosy picture: there would be no upfront charges for the punters. The installation money would initially come from the slush fund.

It sounded good. Ordinary Joe and Josephine Soaps were for once being treated on a par with bankers. Hard-pressed citizens were admittedly at the back of the queue -- behind the banks -- but at least they were finally going to enjoy a tangible benefit from the pensions pot. Not all the loot was going to be buried down the banking black hole.

It was too good to be true. Suddenly it emerged that the money for our water meters was going to be lent, not given, to us. Ireland's house owners would, individually, be forced to repay the cost of the meter installation over 20 years, probably at a price of €40 a year or €800 in total. Worse still, we will pay interest to the wretched NPRF at an unknown rate -- to be imposed later on.

Hold it. We are now borrowing, not receiving, money from the fund, probably at a penal rate of interest. Every householder in Ireland will be forced, not requested, to borrow money from the depleted fund to pay for their water meters.

And whose money will we be borrowing? We will be borrowing our own money, our own savings, at a high interest rate to repay the same sum (plus interest) to a Fund that we ourselves own.

Welcome to Dick Turpin economics.

Elsewhere the Government has shovelled money out of the same pensions pot, straight into the arms of the banks at a huge loss to us. The banks will benefit because they will never repay most of it.

The NPRF now has two types of portfolio. They call one the 'directed' portfolio, the other the 'discretionary' portfolio. The banks are the beneficiaries of 'directed' investments -- directed by the minister -- often free of charge. The citizens will suffer the pain of its 'discretionary' investment, a different creature enabling the NPRF -- on behalf of the Government -- to extort so-called commercial returns from the people.

Contrary to popular belief the performance of the NPRF (managed by the NTMA) discretionary portfolio has been deeply disappointing. Now they have suddenly been handed the softest touch in the investment world, a nation whose citizens are on their knees, being handed over in manacles by a craven government. They will bleed us dry.

At the very least we should be treated equally with the banks. The NPRF should make the installation of the meters an investment in infrastructure, not a crippling loan to each household. Why is the Government not 'directing' the fund to pay for the wretched installation? Then we would be saved our €800 per household.

Nothing changes. Why have Bank of Ireland and AIB been given preferential terms? The citizens come second.

*****

Dateline this Tuesday: the annual bash for masochists at the O'Reilly Hall UCD. This year the Bank of Ireland is holding its AGM at 9.30 am, in the hope that it will be too early for shareholders from outside the pale to turn up.

Surprise them. Join me there and give the board a grilling. The results of the resolutions are a formality as chairman Pat Molloy will have his back pocket stuffed with millions of proxies from fellow institutional insiders. Watch out as the board peddles the same bogus line about "progress" -- the catchword in the annual report. The only progress we want to see is in the share price. It now stands at 12 cents. I bought the shares at around 10 euro each.

Is there any sign of "progress"? Ask the €394,000- a-year Molloy a few questions about what these plutocrats are up to. Vote against the resolutions proposing the re-election of both Molloy and his cohort Richie Boucher, who walked away with €831,000 last year. Not bad for two men heading up a basket case.

Read the annual report if you can bear it. Start at the back where they try to bury all the secrets. And demand answers to some of the following questions:

1. On Page 362 it reveals that the Central Bank of Ireland took a dramatic "floating charge" in the Bank of Ireland's assets as long ago as February 2008. Why did it take such prescient action? Did it know something long before the night of the bank guarantee? Why did the board agree?

2. Resolution 9 abolishes the requirements for certain directors to be resident in Ireland. Is the Bank contemplating a governor from the United States?

3. Key Bank of Ireland personnel have been withdrawing their own personal deposits from the Bank of Ireland. In the last two years they fell by €29m. Have the top brass in the Bank lost confidence in its solvency? Or do they privately anticipate an Irish debt default?

4. Richie Boucher, a survivor of the old regime , has a €831,000 pay package. Please justify and tell us what offers he has received from rival banks to merit such an inflated deal.

5. After an "evaluation" the board has concluded that each director standing for re-election "makes a valued contribution . . ." blah blah blah. Please give the shareholders the result of this "evaluation" and how it was carried out.

6. Please give us an evaluation of the "public interest" directors, Joe Walsh and Tom Considine. What is the benefit of having a former Fianna Fail minister for Agriculture and an ex-Central Bank director on the board? Are not both the regulator and Fianna Fail discredited entities? Walsh took away €1,500 a week in 2011 to top up his Dail pension, while Considine added €90,000 a year to his public service pension.

7. Why does the bank continue to employ arch-insiders PwC as auditors? Is it true that PwC have received over €100m in audit fees from B of I in recent years? Has the audit ever been put out to tender?

8. The Bank of Ireland has given a letter of comfort to the regulatory authorities in the Isle of Man. Why did they ask for it?

9. How much has the Bank of Ireland provided for legal liabilities? Are there any massive provisions for major court cases?

10. Patrick Kennedy of Paddy Power, a rare welcome addition to the board, owes B of I €5.6m in mortgages. Is this for his company or for himself?

Sunday Indo Business