“We have no control over what client companies pay their staff” Irish Bank Resolution Corporation chairman Alan Dukes before the Oireachtas finance, public expenditure and reform committee on 31st October 2012
For a picture of slack-jawed bewilderment you would have found it very hard to beat the expressions on the four executives from IBRC at the Oireachtas finance committee hearing last week. What they had just been asked was how many of their borrowers were paying salaries to themselves or their staff in excess of €200,000. Seriously, judging by the looks on the faces of the Aussie CEO, Mike Aynsley and two of his British senior executives, they might have thought that they had just been asked a question As Gaeilge.
In fact it was the Sinn Fein environment spokesperson Brian Stanley who had just asked:
“The first question I will ask relates to the number of IBRC borrowers that are paying their staff more than €200,000 per annum. For example, it has been reported that Siteserv, which is hopelessly insolvent, is paying one of its staff €450,000 per annum.”
Siteserv is the company to which IBRC had extended €150m of loans and when the company was sold to interests associated with Denis O’Brien earlier this year, IBRC reportedly took a writedown – equals “debt forgiveness” – of €100m. The accounts for Siteserv published in June 2011 – temporarily unavailable from the Siteserv website which presently display a message that its “full website is coming soon” – revealed that its CEO, Brian Harvey was being paid €401,000 per annum.
So here you had a company, Siteserv, which was in the words of Deputy Stanley “hopelessly insolvent” on the basis that IBRC had to write off €100m of a €150m loan, and yet Siteserv was paying at least one employee over €400,000 as revealed in the accounts. And when challenged on this state of affairs, Alan Dukes the former finance minister shrugs his shoulders and says “We have no control over what client companies pay their staff”
Contrast this blasé attitude with NAMA’s position where it can tell you to the nearest €50,000 how much its borrowers get paid.
And the maximum is €200,000 and that is paid to three borrowers and NAMA has had no end of flak from the public and politicians about these three €200,000 salaries. In addition, NAMA will tell you that it doesn’t do “debt forgiveness” – it may work with a debtor over several years and once it is satisfied it has recovered all it can recover, it may write off the remainder but here you have IBRC writing off €100m at the drop of a hat.
So, in one company, Siteserv, which has cost the taxpayer – because as we keep correctly hearing in the Sean Quinn case, IBRC is 100% owned by the taxpayer – a loan writedown of €100m, not only were €400k-plus salaries being paid, but IBRC looks at you as if you were from Venus for even suggesting that the salaries at companies which were “massively insolvent” should be monitored and capped. And we can probably thank the Independent and Sunday Independent for keeping us informed about the Siteserv transaction, perhaps because it featured an association with Denis O’Brien. How many cases of “hopelessly insolvent” companies paying €200,000-plus salaries go unreported? Who knows, but by the looks of it, you would be wasting your time asking IBRC for that information.
Clearly there is one rule for NAMA and another for IBRC. But NAMA operates under the auspices of Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, and Minister Noonan is the sole shareholder in 100% of IBRC. NAMA and IBRC are in the same business – managing legacy loans and winding down by 2020. But only NAMA is held to account for the salaries of its borrowers. At the very least that is inconsistent.