Last week I blogged a response I had received from the Department of Finance concerning Government consultations over the establishment of NAMA. The response was prompted by an FOI request, seeking the titles, dates and authors of consultation reports for the Government (seeking the documents themselves would have been refused outright).
What it brought to light, in a small way, was how little in-house expertise the Government has. Reports were written for the Government by Merrill Lynch, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Arthur Cox, Peter Bacon, Rothschild, and HSBC. If you are wondering who drafted the NAMA legislation, the answer lies somewhere between all of these companies and people, the Department of Finance and the Minister. It would also be fair to say that the Irish banks must have had input into the process, since they are the ones who are being saved from bankruptcy.
Many of these companies though were engaged not by the Department of Finance, but by the National Treasury Management Agency. They are the guys who issue sovereign bonds and manage the national debt, or as their website says:
The 1990 Act empowers the NTMA “to borrow moneys for the Exchequer and to manage the National Debt on behalf of and subject to the control and general superintendence of the Minister for Finance and to perform certain related functions and to provide for connected matters”.
Now my interest is piqued because the salary of NTMA chief executive Michael Somers is secret. The same is true, it appears, of all other staff at the NTMA.
Thanks to some helpful readers, from what I can gather, NTMA pay bands are as follows:
91 members of staff are paid below €80,000 a year.
22 staff are paid between €80,000 and €100,000 a year.
27 staff are paid between €100,000 and €200,000 a year.
9 staff are paid over €200,000 a year.
The average bonus paid in 2008, for work during 2007, was €21,447.
I make that 149 members of staff. I also make that a bonus fund mean of €3.1 million for 2007. If we take the lower tier staff, and take the upper range of figures, we could surmise that at the maximum budget allowed (if people are all paid at the top of the range, which is unlikely) is:
Which would make €14.8m at the maximum allowable wage for all staff collectively. Add that to bonuses of another €3.1m. This excludes the 9 staff, since there is no ceiling there. We are hitting €20m in staff costs alone, minus directors. It is rumoured that Mr Somers earns anywhere between €200,000 and €1,000,000 a year.
The question is this: As a taxpayer am I entitled to know the salary of Mr Somers, and other highly paid staff at the NTMA? Is the public interest better served by this information being available, or is it better served by it being secret? The Government would argue that such high wages are needed to get the skills necessary from the private sector, and if these people were not working in the public sector, they could be earning more in the private sector – therefore we need high wages.
I don’t buy it. Where is the spirit of public service, like we see in the US? I am certain that many of the people working in the finance arms of the Obama administration want to work in service of the State because it is a part of a citizen’s duty. The salaries of many high ranking officials are freely available too. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner earns $191,300 a year, minus expenses. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke earns the same amount minus expenses (Although Geithner’s predecessor had an estimated net worth of $500m thanks to his years at Goldman Sachs).
The salaries of people who are being paid by the taxpayer, such as people at the NTMA, should be published on their website. We have to ask ourselves how the public interest is served by keeping this information secret, and if any arguments in favour of secrecy have merit. The interest in their salaries is not prurient, it is simply how accountable systems work. Publish the information, then we know.
No big deal, right?
So the next question is this: Under what section and subsection of the FOI act would a request for salaries be refused?