Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Commission of Investigation (National Asset Management Agency) Order 2017: Motion
That Seanad Éireann approves the following order in draft:Commission of Investigation (National Asset Management Agency) Order 2017,copies of which Order in draft were laid before Seanad Éireann on 9th May, 2017.
I will briefly set out the background to the motion. As Senators will be aware, NAMA was established as part of the response to the banking crisis that arose in 2008. Its objective was to acquire loans from eligible banks, hold and manage these loans and related collateral and achieve the best financial return for the State by disposing of these assets expeditiously. NAMA acquired the loans for a total of €31.8 billion from the participating banks. NAMA's purchase was funded predominantly through €30.2 billion of Government-guaranteed senior NAMA bonds, which was a large contingent liability for the State. There was no doubt that the repayment of this debt would be extremely challenging and vitally important to improving the creditworthiness of the State. To be successful, NAMA would have to make important and commercially informed decisions at a time of great economic crisis. It is important to note that since 2010, against all expectations, NAMA has redeemed 98% of its senior debt, reducing the State's contingent liability from the original €30.2 billion to just €500 million today. NAMA expects to redeem the remaining €500 million in 2017 and ultimately to deliver a surplus of over €2 billion to the State. The full repayment of NAMA's debt, let alone returning a surplus to the State, was considered unthinkable by most people at NAMA's inception. NAMA's focus over the period from 2018 to 2020 will be on completing its objectives, including the delivery of office space in the Dublin docklands and much-needed housing.
As Senators will know, in 2014, NAMA sold the Project Eagle portfolio to Cerberus, and issues around the sale subsequently became the subject of much media and political debate. In 2016, the Comptroller and Auditor General carried out an investigation into the sale to ascertain if NAMA had obtained the best achievable financial return for the State. In September 2016, the Comptroller and Auditor General published a special report which criticised elements of NAMA's performance. The Comptroller and Auditor General concluded that the decision to sell the loans at a minimum price of £1.3 billion involved a significant probable loss of up to £190 million in net present value terms; restrictions on the sales process, combined with the scope of Lazard's comfort letter, did not provide sufficient assurance that a different marketing strategy for the loans or a different timing of the sale could not have resulted in NAMA achieving a higher price from the sale of the loans; and allegations of the involvement of a member of NAMA's Northern Ireland advisory committee in an arrangement to share fees with law firms connected to the sale warranted more action by NAMA. Following publication of the report, NAMA indicated it fundamentally disagreed with many of the conclusions reached by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
In March 2017, the Committee of Public Accounts published a report on NAMA's sale of Project Eagle which was completed following extensive public meetings at which many key witnesses gave evidence. The committee's report concluded that the Comptroller and Auditor General's report was evidence-based, balanced and reasonable and that the Project Eagle sale was marked by inadequate record-keeping, weaknesses in the management of conflicts of interest, a seriously deficient sales process and, ultimately, an inability by NAMA to demonstrate that it had obtained best value for money for the State. The Committee of Public Accounts also welcomed the proposal to establish a commission of investigation.
There has been extensive consultation with all parties in the Oireachtas since last September about the establishment of this commission of investigation. The Taoiseach met leaders of the Opposition on a number of occasions both before and after the Committee of Public Accounts report was published. At those meetings, all present acknowledged the limitations a commission of investigation will face, including that some of the alleged events took place outside the State, as well as ongoing criminal investigations. The Taoiseach also emphasised that it is unclear how much more information a commission may be able to provide beyond what the Committee of Public Accounts has already achieved. Nonetheless, in view of the consensus among Opposition representatives that a commission of investigation be established, and despite its likely cost, the Government has agreed to establish the commission. I am pleased to confirm that Mr. Justice John Cooke, a former High Court judge, has agreed to chair the commission.
The Taoiseach has also consulted Opposition representatives on the terms of reference of the commission. The commission will, in the first module of its work, investigate NAMA's sale of Project Eagle. As agreed with Opposition representatives, it will be possible to amend the terms of reference, in accordance with the Commissions of Investigation Act, to provide for further modules at a future point. The commission is to investigate, having regard to NAMA's statutory obligations under the NAMA Act 2009 and appropriate commercial practice, the following: if the disposal strategy for its Northern Ireland loan portfolio, including the timing of the disposal and sale as a single portfolio, was appropriate in the circumstances; if the minimum price applied, and how it was derived, regarding its Northern Ireland loan portfolio were appropriate in the circumstances; if the management of the sales process by NAMA, including procedures and controls applied, timeframes, access to potential bidders and record-keeping, was appropriate in the circumstances and demonstrated best corporate governance; if any conflicts of interest arising in respect of members of NAMA's Northern Ireland advisory committee were managed appropriately in the circumstances; when and how NAMA became aware of fees allegedly payable to a former member of the Northern Ireland advisory committee by bidders on Project Eagle and if this issue was managed appropriately by NAMA during the sale of the Northern Ireland loan portfolio; and if decisions and actions of the Minister for Finance and the Department of Finance relating to the disposal of the Northern Ireland portfolio, including communications with members and officials of the Northern Ireland Executive and meetings with potential bidders, were appropriate in the circumstances.
The commission shall avail of appropriate and independent commercial and financial expertise to inform its investigation. The commission will provide an interim report after three months and a final report by the end of June 2018, subject to section 6(6) of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.The exact requirements of the commission will become clearer once the commission is established and begins to scope out its work in more detail. Based on an initial assessment and taking account of the cost estimate for the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, commission to investigate one transaction, an approximate cost of €10 million is proposed. This may be an overestimate if the commission does not suffer from the same level of third party costs and other challenges faced by the IBRC commission. It is important to note that this estimate refers to the proposed first module of the commission’s work relating to NAMA’s sale of Project Eagle only.
There is a shared commitment among the Members of this House that the matters giving rise to public concern regarding NAMA are investigated thoroughly and effectively. I commend the motion to the House.
I thank the Minister of State for joining us again in the House. He is getting quite used to being here on various matters. Fianna Fáil supports this motion and a commission of investigation into the sale of NAMA's Northern Ireland loan book, known as Project Eagle. This was agreed by the Government last autumn and the commission of inquiry will be the responsibility of the Taoiseach, as it would obviously not be appropriate for the Department of Finance and its Minister to be responsible for investigating something in which they were involved from the start.
We support the gradual and responsible winding down of NAMA, which will involve the paying off of the debt NAMA holds and returning a surplus to the taxpayer. That will involve the gradual and responsible selling of assets currently owned by NAMA. As we know, NAMA was established in 2009 to acquire impaired property loans from banks, protect or enhance the value of those assets and to dispose of them over time. In doing so, NAMA was required to obtain the best achievable financial return for the State. The figure of €74 billion is regularly mentioned in reference to NAMA but it would be unfair to say the €74 billion should have been recovered. Equally, if there is €74 billion in book value written down to €31 billion, with €32 billion being realised, there may be a theoretical surplus but it still results in a very significant loss to the State and, ultimately, to all of us.
The Minister of State mentioned that NAMA issued debt amounting to €31.8 billion, of which €30.2 billion was senior debt and €1.6 billion was subordinated debt. That was guaranteed by the State. NAMA’s objective is to redeem senior debt in full by 2018 and up to the third quarter of 2016, €26.6 billion has been redeemed. It looks as if NAMA is on target to redeem its debts as issued of €31.8 billion, which is a definite positive, as people might have said at the time. It is great that it is going to exceed it somewhat. We all know assets were sold in 2012 and 2013 that were ultimately flipped for multiples of their value, so it is unfortunate that certain speculators managed to make the gain rather than the State. There was a particular office building in the Dublin docklands that was sold by the State for €13 million and then flipped a year or two years later for €100 million. It would have been preferable if NAMA had held on to the asset for a couple of years longer. Again, hindsight is wonderful.
There have been issues with NAMA. People went through years of austerity in part because of the funding required for NAMA and as a result of the banking crisis. The extensive write-down of the debt from €74 billion left us with a big black hole that the taxpayers ultimately had to fill. This meant that taxes rose and services had to be cut to fill the gap. This cost came to approximately €60 billion and pushed Ireland into a bailout. Many of the issues were not restricted to NAMA and related to Government policy and specifically the way in which the Government failed to put in place adequate consumer protection when NAMA sold some of the loans to private vulture funds. It was only as late as 2015 that the Government responded to this and by that time, most of the loans had been sold to vulture funds and borrowers, homeowners and small and medium enterprises, SMEs, were left significantly exposed. Today, some 14,000 mortgage holders have their loans owned by unregulated entities and the Central Bank does not know how many SMEs have their loans owned by such unregulated entities.
With many assets it is suggested that the Minister for Finance instructed NAMA to sell assets sooner rather than later. This direction meant that NAMA did not make as much money as it otherwise would have had. To be fair, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, denies ordering NAMA but admits to advising the agency. In his view, the sale of NAMA assets facilitated Ireland’s return to international markets. Ultimately, NAMA may have received more of a return if it waited but it would not have received the €74 billion.
With Project Eagle there has been a significant loss and the Minister of State outlined much of it in his opening remarks. The sales process has been a matter of considerable debate involving the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Committee of Public Accounts and, ultimately, the Dáil and Seanad. There was a significant debate in the Dáil in March that was marred by the Minister, Deputy Noonan, questioning the integrity of the Committee of Public Accounts, which distracted from the findings on Project Eagle. This attack revolved around Deputy Noonan’s own meeting with Cerberus on the eve of the closing bid date for Project Eagle and was unhelpful, to say the least, to the process. The report never suggested that Deputy Noonan influenced the sale but rather that it was procedurally inappropriate. This effectively means that it was ill-judged. Despite the fact that only two paragraphs of the 102-page report referred to the meetings, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, focused heavily on that point.
There were also issues relating to advisers to the Northern Ireland advisory board of NAMA relating to Cerberus and PIMCO, along with certain individuals. We all know the topic involved and although I will not mention individual names, I have no doubt Mr. Justice Cooke will examine these issues. I wish all of those involved in the commission well in their efforts to get some answers to fundamental questions that remain outstanding. I welcome the report but it is important that when we consider any report and commission, we get a timely and efficient report. We want everything investigated accurately and properly. We do not want what we could have had in the past, with tribunals going on for 15 or 20 years and nobody ending up punished for actions if found not to have served the State well.
I welcome the motion and my party will support it. I certainly hope the first module of this commission of investigation on Project Eagle will be satisfactory for the interests of all taxpayers and people in this State. If further modules are required, so be it, although I do not wish for it. I hope more issues are not uncovered, although the likelihood is there is a possibility of it happening.
I thank the Minister of State for being present and reading the statement into the record on the proposal. It is difficult to see what the NAMA commission will find out that we do not already know. There are outstanding criminal inquiries into the matters relating to the commission, there is a Comptroller and Auditor General report and now this commission is proposing to do this work. This yet again tells us about the lack of absolute regulation when it comes to white collar crime and how to deal with it. We only need to refer to what we saw yesterday with the FitzPatrick trial. I will not go into that in detail. The public's confidence is at an all-time low with regard to commerce and business. People are disappointed. Sometimes we get caught up in this bubble around Leinster House but when we walk on the streets, the first thing people will ask is why we need another commission, paying another load of barristers, solicitors, experts and forensic accountants to tell us what we already know.
We know the matter came before the Committee of Public Accounts, which is an exceptional body with an exceptional record. Why are we going around the houses? We know its findings and some people may not have been happy about them. We know the Minister for Finance was disappointed with aspects of it and what the Comptroller and Auditor General spoke about. There is much information out there but we are now going ahead with another commission of inquiry. I do not doubt the capacity to find a bit more information but that is what the public sees and what I try to bring here in my daily work.
NAMA was established by Fianna Fáil and there was never any provision for freedom of information requests. That is a failure of politicians in here. That is not to single out Fianna Fáil but there was no attempt to insert a freedom of information provision. Where is the transparency and accountability?When this was established, those are the issues that should have been dealt with and taken on board, but they were not taken on board. I hope we will learn some lessons from them because that is important.
The Minister of State dealt with Project Eagle in his report. We know that significant losses were incurred, and that is an area of concern. I will not go into the detail of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report; it is on record for anyone to see. We know what the Committee of Public Accounts had to say about it. In terms of what crystallises this issue, I draw attention to a statement issued by the Minister for Finance and his Department on 29 March 2017. He dealt with the criticism of him, as Minister for Finance, in that report. He addresses the issues in the report and goes on to state: "The Minute of the meeting with Cerberus is available ... [in his Department and is up on its] website ...". That is welcome and it throws some light on the matter. I had a look at that today and it raises a number of issues. The Minister goes on to state: "The meetings with Cerberus were not an area of concern in the C&AG report on Project Eagle published on the 5th August 2016." That is there for the record. He goes on to state: "I have stated consistently that I supported the work of NAMA. I have confidence that the Board of NAMA are achieving their commercial mandate in accordance with the NAMA Act." That is what the Minister told us. The most telling bit is where he sums up by stating:
Before the Government makes a decision ... to proceed [with a commission] it will be important to hear the views of the members of PAC on a number of issues. In light of the extensive evidence [already] collected and ... [worked through and] completed [and before] ... the C&AG and the PAC and in the light of the ongoing investigations in multiple foreign jurisdictions it is important that Members in advising Government are able to answer the following questions:
what would a Commission investigate?
... [how] could a Commission add value beyond the work already completed?
what could the Commission achieve in light of ongoing criminal and other investigations, and the fact that many potential witnesses and evidence are located outside the jurisdiction?
how much might such a Commission cost and would that result in such a commission justifying the use of scarce budgetary resources?
He goes on to talk about the corporate governance issues. That statement is available and I would advise people to have a read of it because it is very comprehensive, and I have only quoted some aspects.
We do not really have an option when it comes to supporting this commission going ahead but we have a hell of a lot of lessons to learn about how this was all set up before we even get to the commission. If this will give us more transparency and provide the public with greater reassurance, then we have to proceed with it, but it will involve a huge cost to the State. There is no point in us coming in here bellyaching in nine months time about the costs and saying that we got it all wrong again.The bigger issue is how will we tackle potential white collar crime. How will we tidy up on the area of corporate governance and all the other issues? We have a duty at this point to go ahead with this and to have another investigation. For that reason, I will support it but with great reluctance because I am sure that in a year or two years time we will back in here, if we are still here, saying there is nothing new to add but that we have we spent a fortune on lawyers, experts and specialists and we have done damn all for the money. If I was asked honestly today, with hand on heart, what I would do, I would accept that the Committee of Public Accounts has done work, that the Comptroller and Auditor General has done work and, having heard what the Minister has had to say, I would move on, learn from the mistakes and ensure they do not happen in the future. I am not sure if we should be spending this large volume of money. That is not to run away from the issue but I have addressed key points and I hope the Minister of State will respond to them.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to the House. I support this commission of investigation being established but I have one proviso. It is due to produce an interim report in three months time. I do not want someone to come back saying that they need a further deferral. The critical point is that we need to have an interim report from the judge and the commission within three months. If the judge has a difficulty with resources, he should tell the Government now, not a day before the three months are up. This is about public trust.
The Committee of Public Accounts produced the report and I believe an issue was missed in all of the discussion. The Comptroller and Auditor General had an issue with the procedure, which he queried as he did the corporate governance. That was the key to the report of the Committee of Public Accounts. That was rarely reported in the media, yet that was the key, and it never got the level of probity required. It was all about the value. The value is extremely important to the taxpayer, but it is about the procedure.
I was in the other House the night the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, was set up. I put through that legislation for Fine Gael. NAMA was set up for specific reasons, and they have been lost. NAMA was set up because the banks, in terms of their balance sheets, were effectively bankrupt. The taxpayer stepped in and effectively put more than €40 billion of taxpayers' money into NAMA. They took it on the hook.
In terms of what was to spring from NAMA, it was supposed to take all the difficult development loans off the banks' balance sheets and allow credit to flow. That took a long time to happen. Getting the money back was to be a long-term project, not a short-term one. It was not supposed to be an asset disposal agency only. It was supposed to have a major social dividend. It has delivered on some of that, but it has not delivered on other aspects. We are where we are, and we look at the body of work that has been done by the Committee of Public Accounts. I know the Comptroller and Auditor General. I was a member of the Committee of Public Accounts for many years. It was about the procedures. The question is why the procedures were remiss. There is also the matter of how much it would cost the taxpayer. Those are the questions the ordinary person is asking.
I want to bring this full circle. In the judgment delivered today in the case of Sean FitzPatrick in the Circuit Court, the jury was directed by the judge to give a not guilty verdict. The ordinary person is looking at that and, once again, they are being told by the judge that the reason for this was procedural. The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement did not do its job properly. I am as mad as hell about that. I was thinking about it outside the perspective of a politician. How in the name of God did this happen? Some €30 billion of taxpayers' money has gone down a drain in Anglo. It is costing the ordinary taxpayer over €6,000 each. We now have a situation where there have been two trials. This current trial lasted 126 days. It will cost the taxpayer €3 million, apart from what it cost in terms of the investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. There must be accountability. How did this cock-up happen? Why are we hearing people say that files were shredded? How do we find that the witness statements were taken incorrectly?
I remember when the issue came to hand. In layman's terms what happened was that two financial institutions, Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society, had different year ends. Anglo's year end was 30 September. That of Irish Nationwide was either November or December. Effectively, a director's loan was refinanced in a bed and breakfast transaction out of Anglo into Irish Nationwide for a two-week period, so it never appeared on Anglo's balance sheet. It was transferred back into Anglo within two weeks, so it never appeared on Irish Nationwide's balance sheet at year end. Those are the facts. It was €100 million at the end. It only came to light because at year end in September 2008, the director's loan balance had gone up sky high and questions were asked about that.
The ordinary person looking into this is asking what happened. They want to know why they are picking up the paper and reading that a judge, having spent €3 million of our money carrying out an investigation in the courts on legal fees, and I cannot imagine what was spent by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, stated that there was bias in the way the investigation was carried out.The bottom line is that there is €30 billion of taxpayer's money on the hook for Anglo Irish Bank. The promissory note was great as it kicked debt off into the future, but my children and those of the ordinary man on the street will end up paying for it. The news came on the day when we were focused on the crisis in Manchester, which was absolutely horrific, given the loss of human lives. What we are discussing did not involve the loss of human lives directly, but how many people have come to the offices of public representatives who were being hounded by the banks have lost their homes and businesses? They are looking at what has happened and saying the organs of State did not work in their interests and that effectively an institution set up to look at white collar crime, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, did not do its job properly. People will lose trust in the legal mechanisms of the State as a result. There will be a delayed reaction because the judge made the announcement on the day we were focused on the tragic loss of life caused by a murderer at an event in Manchester.
People have to be held accountable. The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement has to be held accountable for this major cock up at taxpayer's expense. We must become serious in tackling white collar crime. Regardless of whether Mr. FitzPatrick was guilty, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement should have done its job properly. This has been ongoing since 2012. After five years, it is not good enough. I am incensed and outraged that there has been such a cock up when I see what people have had to go through since 2007. The arms of the law are seen as not having carried out their job. If in the circumstances Mr. FitzPatrick had been found guilty or not guilty, so be it, but the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement should have carried out its job properly. This is not rocket science; it is about preparing a case in the normal way. We must find out what happened in the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the people must be held accountable.
What people will ask is who has been in government for the past six years and who was in government in the years before that period when all of this was happening. Where does the buck stop? Who was in charge of the asylum? Did the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement have proper resources available to it? What were the checks and balances when it was set up? Accountability was pushed from one source to the other. Nobody is paying, except citizens. It is not an election we need but a revolution.
I welcome the establishment of the commission of investigation and the fact that it received all party support in the Dáil last night. I also welcome the U-turn made by the Fianna Fail Party which only a year ago opposed its establishment because in its opinion it might impede a criminal investigation. The need for such a commission was as obvious 11 months ago as it is today. The decisions of NAMA have cost every citizen dearly; in the region of €250 billion will be lost by this State agency. A large number of citizen now realise the losses incurred were even larger owing to malpractice and inappropriate interference. I suggest it was public pressure and outrange that contributed to Fianna Fail's charge of heart on the matter. The work of the commission will impact on the State's ability to fight white collar crime. There is a need for legislation to be enacted quickly to implement any recommendation that might arise from the work of the commission.
This morning I addressed the anger felt by citizens as the trial judge had directed that one of those most closely associated with the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank should be found not guilty. Every citizen paid €6,000 to bail out Anglo Irish Bank. As a result of this and Government cutbacks, there are many people who are unable to get out of the bed in the morning, as the Taoiseach-in-waiting said. There are people who have lost home help hours or were forced out of work because they had to care for sick relatives. There is an absolute mismatch between the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar's public showboating in front of advertisements which target those who cheat the benefit system and the derisory resources given to bodies which combat corporate and company crime. The Minister claims there is a serious divide in Irish society between those who want to work and those who want everything for free. Yesterday it was laid bare that the most dangerous divide was actually between those who thought it was okay to defraud the State and its citizens of billions of euroi and those who wanted to see it stopped. The commission of investigation should be seen as a test case on whether the State has learned anything from the collapse yesterday of the trial. In saying this I am not assuming that anybody is guilty or not guilty.
I acknowledge the work of the Committee of Public Accounts. We, in Sinn Féin, always thought a commission of inquiry would be the best way of arriving at the truth. While the Committee of Public Accounts gathered and examined evidence, it did not have a mandate to attribute blame or to comment on the actions of certain State employees and politicians. I welcome the terms of reference, especially the fact that the sale of Project Eagle will be examined in the first module. I understand the role of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and his Department in the disposal of the Northern portfolio will also be examined. We are clear that there was an inappropriate eve of sale meeting with the Minister for Finance before the sale of the Northern portfolio. I want to see the commission's work go unhindered and proceed as fast as possible. We have had many commissions of inquiry, yet we have a very poor record of getting to the root of problems. Speed is important. If the commission finds that there was inappropriate behaviour in sales, there will be a need for immediate action to be taken. The first module is due to take three months to complete and the first report will be issued in June 2018. As the investigation is ongoing, NAMA will be free to sell assets in whatever way it sees fit. There is no guarantee, therefore, that the dreadful mistakes made in the sale of Project Eagle which resulted in the loss of €191 million, as confirmed by the Comptroller and Auditor General, will not be made again while the very is carrying out its work.
I take the opportunity to thank the Comptroller and Auditor General for his relentless pursuit of this issue, without which we might not be where we are today. Sinn Féin wants to see an immediate halt to NAMA sales. NAMA continues to hold assets both in bricks and mortar and land banks. Since the first motion to establish a commission of investigation was defeated, we have had the sale of Project Jewel. In many ways, we have no option but to have a commission of investigation. Any citizen who reads the newspapers or follows proceedings in the Houses of the Oireachtas knows that something is rotten. Despite repeated statements that the Minister for Finance did not instruct NAMA to effect a faster sale of assets, there has been no explanation of how such huge losses were incurred. Anybody with any civic responsibility would agree that this question cannot remain unanswered. The commission is long overdue and it is welcome that it will start its work immediately.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I support the establishment of the commission of investigation, although I share some of the concerns expressed by others. It was very unfortunate that the report produced by the Comptroller and Auditor General which was clear was challenged in the way it was by a Minister and the Government. The Committee of Public Accounts also produced a very substantial report. While a commission is necessary to move to a situation where blame can be apportioned and concrete actions taken as a result of its work, we have to consider that time is passing. We are concerned that in the past ten weeks NAMA has sold another tranche of loans worth €2.5 billion. We know about Project Gem. We also know that large-scale sales of assets are happening under the same regime that surrounded Project Eagle and that they are proceeding apace. In the interim period, before June next year, how much of the remaining asset portfolio of the State will be disposed of?There is a question as to whether there should be a suspension of sales or, at the very minimum, a new regime of transparency associated with sales.
Some of the elements of the terms of reference which I welcome include the fact that the commission of investigation will look at the question of whether both the timing of the sale and the disposal of the loans as a single portfolio were appropriate. There is a question around the NAMA practice of the large-scale bundling of portfolios and loans as sales, whether that is the most effective and appropriate way to dispose of these assets and whether it delivers the best and most meaningful return to the State.
The question of the social dividend has already been referred to by colleagues and in that context, there is a problem with the way in which NAMA was set up. We had a great opportunity, when enormous amounts of property and other assets were transferred effectively into State control, to extract a social dividend but NAMA seems to have had a mandate simply to turn the assets around and get what it could from them over a period of time. Time was a driver in this and there is no sense that an adequate timescale was allowed to realise the best return. There are also questions around whether the social dividend might have been better, in terms, for example, of the role NAMA could and should have played in addressing our housing crisis. The manner of the setting up of NAMA meant that, coming out of a huge property bubble and crash, we again tied ourselves into a speculative model of property inflation.
However, NAMA has not been operating in a bubble over the last two or three years. We have seen policies, such as the capital gains tax waiver, which have led to huge floods of vulture fund purchases. Such funds were effectively invited in. We have seen NAMA's assets turning over at a rapid rate to those capital rich vulture funds, attracted by massive tax incentives. We only need look to the sales figures and how they changed and jumped between 2012 and 2014 to see that. We must ask whether this was the best method to yield the best return and whether it was the best long-term strategic plan, not just for the cash profit that the State makes but also in terms of planning for our population and for a sustainable society with a sustainable property market that is not purely speculative. We see again commercial property continuing to be inflated and presumably that will be the case until it has been fully disposed of.
If NAMA has lost €190 million on the €4.5 billion Project Eagle transaction, how much has it lost on the €1.75 billion published since then? If it is a similar proportion, then the money spent on the commission will represent good value if it concretely contributes to us not having similar losses on the sales that are being made. Unfortunately, however, we have not seen any signal from the Government that it intends to ask NAMA to approach sales in a different way or that there will be greater rigour.
I appreciate that the terms of reference include a caveat regarding confidentiality and commercial sensitivity, namely that they will only be respected where they are not incompatible with the public interest. Again, the opportunity to have freedom of information provisions available from the very start is an issue that can be examined. What are the Minister of State's views on freedom of information in areas where it does not currently apply because of commercial sensitivity? Will there be a change of approach in that regard, whereby we ensure far greater freedom of information access and transparency, even in areas where there is commercial sensitivity?
In 2014 the directors of NAMA came to the House and spoke about the €11 million which NAMA paid per year to 134 developers to manage their own portfolios. There are huge questions surrounding that. Section 4 of the terms of reference provides that the commission may also take up other issues which arise in the investigation. We may need to examine the appropriateness, procedurally, of having 134 developers who had gone into NAMA with debt, being paid €11 million by the State to manage their own assets at a time when home owners certainly did not have the luxury of buying down their own mortgage debt. The latter had to watch their debt being sold to vultures above them. There is public anger that those who caused or drove the property crash, which required around €40 billion of taxpayers' money, were living on wages of between €70,000 and €100,000. Those who had property portfolios, who declared themselves bankrupt, who went away for a year or two and then returned are somehow millionaires again, as if by magic. We have seen how wealth disappeared and was regenerated while the general public carried the debt. We have seen the Quinns living on allowances which are 100 times beyond what the general population enjoys and we have seen the acquittal of Mr. Sean Fitzpatrick. There are so many procedural issues there, including the idea that in a white collar area, we do statements by committee as opposed to statements to the police. We have seen the shredding of documents. In that context, I again ask the Minister of State if there will be a new approach. We have seen a litany of incidents of the cutting, pasting and shredding of documents. There needs to be seriousness around white collar crime and there needs to be consequences. Interim action must be taken in the coming months, before the conclusion of this commission in June 2018, to demonstrate that we are taking a new approach. We have enough evidence now to know that we need to change our approach. I would like the Minister of State to outline what will be done in the immediate future in that regard.
I thank Senators for their contributions to this debate. It is clear that all Members of this House share the Government's desire to ensure that the NAMA commission of investigation conducts an effective investigation into matters of significant public concern. A number of issues were raised during the course of the debate which I will endeavour to address now.
The issues of significant public concern that have arisen in relation to NAMA have been the subject of much media and political debate over the last while. Commentators from across the spectrum have aired their views on what may or should have happened regarding the sale of the Project Eagle portfolio by NAMA. I believe that the debate in the House today and the points that were made by all Senators largely reflect the constructive nature of the consultations between the Taoiseach and Opposition leaders over the past few months. Those consultations considered the limitations that will face a commission of investigation and the cost of operating such a commission. A number of Senators asked why a commission was being established. Quite simply, the Opposition parties believed it was necessary despite its limitations, which were made very clear by the Taoiseach at the time. The Taoiseach also made it very clear that it would be very costly.
A number of Senators expressed concern about the potential costs involved, especially given the fact that we have reports from both the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General. They asked what more a commission of investigation could find out. I agree with the Taoiseach's assessment that this is going to cost millions of euro but I am not sure if it will find out any more than that found out by the Comptroller and Auditor General. However, in view of the consensus among Opposition parties, the Government agreed to proceed with a commission of investigation. The Committee of Public Accounts is also of the view that a commission of investigation is justified. The published terms of reference also reflect detailed consultations with Opposition representatives.