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News : Irish Last Updated: Sep 11, 2009 - 8:31:13 AM

NAMA: Cabinet responds to Irish public pressure on "bad bank"; Greens claim credit for following public
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Sep 10, 2009 - 6:33:04 AM

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Monopoly gains from land rezoning which has made land scarce in a country that is 4% urbanised, has been Ireland's biggest stealth tax and bonanza for vested interests for decades. Click here for detail on Irish property values and control of land - - NASA says Ireland seems beyond the reach of winter’s icy grip in this true-color Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Earth Observatory image from January 4, 2003. The rugged cliffs that mark the island’s west coast are showing their red-brown rocky surface, but the low-lying interior region is still wearing the island’s signature green.

NAMA: The Cabinet responded to Irish public pressure and academic economists on Wednesday, by amending the plan for the State "bad bank," which will handle up to €90bn worth of mainly toxic property loans, which will be transferred from Irish banks. Green Party ministers have been quick to claim credit for following the public but before heading off on holidays in July, they approved draft legislation that Wednesday's changes show to have been fundamentally flawed.

During August, as ministers and the rest of the Oireachtas were on holidays, academic economists, including the incoming governor of the Central Bank, Prof. Patrick Honohan, led the public debate on the lopsided provisions in the draft legislation and the concept of valuation on the basis of "long-term economic value," which would allow wide latitude, depending on what the assumptions were - -  in particular ones made by vested interests.

The working of Irish politics, which usually only responds with other than glacial speed when a crisis becomes dire, brings to mind quotes from Frenchman Alexandre Ledru-Rollin (1807-1874): “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader,” and American Groucho Marx (1890-1977): “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.”

The Cabinet agreed the NAMA Bill on Wednesday and it has been published today:

 National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009

UCD economics professor Karl Whelan's  presentation to Labour’s Parliamentary Party meeting on NAMA on Wednesday, Sept 09, 2009.

The framework on risk-sharing between the banks and taxpayers will be outlined by the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan next Wednesday when the Dáil debate on the Bill begins.

Green Party Minister for Energy and Communications Eamon Ryan said that the risk-sharing mechanism between NAMA and the banks would involve the Government issuing subordinated bonds as well as those backed by the European Central Bank. The exact proportions will not be disclosed until next week.

Under the Government’s original plan, agreed by Ryan, Green Party leader John Gormley, and colleagues, NAMA would have paid the agreed price in full to the banks at the outset. This meant all the risk would have been on the taxpayer, if NAMA overvalued the loans and losses occurred.

The Cabinet also agreed a number of other key changes:

  • Making it a criminal offence to lobby NAMA.

  • Introducing a windfall tax of 80% on profits gained from increases in land value due to rezoning decisions to ensure that speculation is not rewarded in the future.

  • Giving NAMA the power to make land banks available in a "controlled manner" in future to avoid a repeat of the property bubble.

  • Obliging NAMA to report to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan every three months instead of the original proposal of once a year.

  • A condition of participating in NAMA will be a guarantee by the banks that a fixed percentage of the loans issued will be lent on to small and medium enterprises.

  • Directors of institutions participating in NAMA appointed before 2008, will now be required to step down over the next two years.

  • The criteria in assessing the long-term value of loans will include the Minister for the Environment’s analysis of the extent of zoning and planning permissions granted, the Minister for Transport’s analysis of future land use based on transport planning, and the Minister for Energy’s analysis of trends in energy prices.

  • The amount NAMA can borrow without the approval of the Minister for Finance has been reduced from a €10 billion limit in the draft Bill to €5 billion.

The Irish Examiner says that nine senior members of the State agency, NTMA -  - the National Treasury Management Agency - -  which will oversee NAMA, were paid more than €200,000 last year.

It’s understood the nine high-earners include accountant Brendan McDonagh, who has been appointed interim managing director of NAMA.

The Fine Gael Deputy Leader & Finance Spokesman Richard Bruton has called on the Government to publish the names of the 1,500 people that will be the beneficiaries of the NAMA plan so that the taxpayer can see who they are bailing out.

Speaking after the Cabinet signed off on the NAMA legislation, Deputy Bruton said: "At its core, NAMA is a secretive, tax-funded, politically directed work-out process for 1,500 of the most powerful, well connected, business people in Ireland’.

“Not only will Irish taxpayers get scalped by bank speculators if NAMA is allowed to deliberately over-pay them for their toxic developer loans, we’ll then be in danger of getting scalped a second time by the developers themselves.

“Secrecy in the use of taxpayers’ money is at the very heart of NAMA. Under the current draft NAMA Bill, the public can be prevented from knowing:

  • The names of developers whose loans are being bought by NAMA with taxpayers’ money;

  • The price taxpayers are paying for these loans;

  • The original value of those loans and of the lands purchased, and the amount of money that the developer themselves put into the deals;

  • The actions being taken by NAMA to recover the loans now owned by the taxpayer;

  • The names of the people that will benefit from the €10 billion in new tax-funded loans that NAMA can give out to developers to finish projects.

“This raises the alarming possibility that NAMA will use taxpayers’ money to buy a €200 million non-performing developer loan from a bank, and lend a further €100 million to the same developer to complete the development, without the public ever knowing what has been done with their money.

“Not only will the absence of disclosure and transparency provisions leave the taxpayer ignorant and vulnerable about what is going on, but the draft legislation also gives extra-ordinary powers for political interference at every stage in the process, from hiring and firing, asset valuation and the rules of engagement with defunct developers.

“This is a frightening formula for sweetheart deals, crony capitalism and taxpayer losses on a mass scale over the next decade, at the very time when we need to restore our international reputation and use every euro to protect public services and the fairness and competitiveness of our tax system.

“The Government likes to cite Sweden as an example of where a NAMA-type bank rescue worked. But surely if there is one thing that we have learned about our political system and civic institutions over the last decade, it is that Ireland is not Sweden.

“In countries with political institutions more vulnerable to business lobbying, this approach does not have a proven track record.

“Only last November, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the world’s repository of expertise in financial crises, finished a study on banking and property busts in seven other countries where the NAMA approach was adopted, and concluded that “Government-owned asset management companies appear largely ineffective in resolving distressed assets, largely due to political and legal constraints” and that “the use of Asset Management Companies is positively correlated with peak non-performing loans and fiscal costs”.

“In layman’s terms, the IMF believes that NAMA type bank rescues can end up costing tax-payers an arm and a leg because politically-directed state quangos are much less skilled than private bankers at recovering loans from rich, powerful and well-connected borrowers.

“The stand-out example is France, where a “NAMA type” asset management company in the 1990s lost a total of €18 billion out of €28 billion of assets purchased by the taxpayer from Credit Lyonnais."

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