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Daly Trapped in Bankers’ Sting

Posted on: July 11th, 2010 1 Comment

Frank Daly, the chairman of Nama, is hardly the first guy you would invite to a wife-swapping orgy or to a drunken dinner party.

Nor would the former taxman draw a crowd to hear his speeches at the dreary lunches he has chosen to address.

In short, poor Frank is a worthy guy, honest as the Almighty, clever, efficient — and dull as ditchwater. For instance, despite his high business status, he is unlikely ever to author a piece for these pages. He has the potential to switch an entire generation of Sindo readers over to the joys of the Observer or the Guardian for titillation.

Frank has sometimes appeared as a witness at Oireachtas committees. He looks deeply uncomfortable in front of the cameras. He attended the Leinster House dungeons when he was a director of Anglo, nearly sending the assembled TDs and senators to sleep on the spot.

That is precisely why Frank is in the chair at Nama.

When Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan was picking the top man at Nama, he did not select the usual political hack who hardly knows his financial posterior from his elbow. He resisted the temptation to appoint a colourful Fianna Failer who would cut a dash in the media.

The last thing needed at Nama was colour or charisma. And it got neither when one of the dullest men in Ireland took the job. Nama was to be the personification of Frank.

For months Frank ran from the press, refusing to return calls, hiding behind public relations spinners while quietly doing the Nama gig in the background.

Recently he started to come out to play. He caused a bit of a stir at the odd lunch.

His words were forensically analysed as Nama came under scrutiny.

In the early days of Nama Lenihan did most of the donkey work in the media . He did it brilliantly — but, sooner or later, he was destined to hand over the baton to someone more directly involved. The PR people at Nama must have decided to give Frank a few outings.

Frank was Frank. He oozed solidity, determination and gallons of anaesthetic.

Admittedly, Frank has only been let loose with the Nama message on the dullest of luncheons, staying within his comfort zone.

A list of his speaking engagements reads like a spell of community service. On May 5, he spoke to the Leinster Society of Chartered Accountants; on May 14, to the Northern Ireland Chambers of Commerce; and on June 4, to the Certified Public Accountants’ annual conference.

Kindred spirits. Anyone prepared for that sort of purgatory is earning the €250,000 a year they are paid for the job.

In his past life Frank never said much worth reporting.

His instincts as a professional public servant detested the soundbite.

Suddenly last week he broke cover. At a press briefing, Frank joined forces with Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh to savage the banks.

At least, in the mild language of Daly, it was a savaging. In words of huge significance for a house-trained servant of the State, he claimed that information provided to the agency by bailed out banks “has not stood up”.

Daly never said that the bankers were lying. That would have been a bridge too far for a man who must have known all the usual suspects on Christian name terms from his days as a taxman.

Charitably, he left the door open for their possible incompetence.

Either way, the bankers fooled Nama. Profit forecasts at Nama were being hurriedly revised. The old Nama business plan had been binned. Nama was facing losses.

The prospect of such a reversal was humiliating for those brazenly forecasting profits of €4.8bn only a few months ago.

Of course, the outdated but overbullish Nama profit forecasts were never based on anything but thickly padded valuations. A fantasy theory of “long-term economic value” was magicked into the mix as a foundation for equally fantastic profits.

When the banks saw the Nama fantasy coming, they spotted a sucker. They promised full co-operation with their saviours. And like bankers always do, they suckered the starry-eyed apparatchiks.

Initially the bankers told the former mandarins that 40 per cent of the loans that were being transferred from the banks to Nama were being serviced with full interest payments.

After Nama took the loans on its books, Daly’s army was dumbstruck to find out that the real figure was only 25 per cent. The original 40 per cent was pie in the sky.

Nama had been suckered.

Even Daly was roused from his slumbers when he realised that he had been hit in an old- fashioned banking sting.

Daly nearly exploded when he discovered that some bankers had been looking after their developer pals.

In Dalyspeak, he was “extremely disappointed and disturbed”.

He explained his astonishment: “The banks have displayed what I can only describe as remarkable generosity towards some of their borrowers, probably [because they were] sentimentally or emotionally attached to some borrowers.”

And then in a stone-cold response he let fly: “That will not be the Nama approach. We don’t do sentiment in here.”

I doubt if the former taxman would ever have used such stern words about even the most chronic tax evaders.

Frank and Brendan revealed that the bankers had allowed their developer friends to pocket some of their rents personally, even when loans on the rented properties were not being serviced.

No doubt that is still happening. Today there are still bankrupt developers living high on the hog in mansions, driving flashy cars and enjoying expensive lifestyles while their loans are not being serviced and their assets have been transferred to Nama.

The developers are laughing all the way to the bankers — and the bankers are laughing all the way to Nama.

The revelations left Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan in a bit of a bind. Nama is his baby. And it seems that his lovechild has been sold a few porkies.

On RTE’s Morning Ireland last Wednesday, Lenihan expressed his shock that the figures given by the bankers to Nama had been so wrong. He reassured the nation that Nama had never swallowed the bankers’ figures.

The Cabinet’s only superstar was skillfully ducking the reality that Nama was the victim of a confidence trick. He must now know that the bankers are dancing a familiar jig. They are running rings around civil servants and Government alike.

Their latest stunt was exposed in the same week that the Government announced a major concession to Labour’s Joan Burton on extending the terms of the banking inquiry by four months.

Bravo! The bankers were in retreat. We will find out what they were doing in the key period of September 2008 to January 2009.

A token concession. Now we will never find out what happened in the following 18 months — the period when the banks fed misleading information to Nama about their clients’ loans.

Nothing that happened in the past 18 months will be investigated. All the rogue bankers still in the system are laughing. And the system is still riddled with them.

Do not take my word for it. Listen to Frank Daly. He admitted on Tuesday that while the co-operation of the bankers had improved it was “not 100 per cent” yet.

Dalyspeak for “they are still at it”.