We left Adana on Monday, travelling to Antioch by bus. It was a nice trip, the bus was air conditioned and almost empty. The bus had two drivers, who switched half way through. They also gave out free Pepsi, fizzy orange and tea.
Archive for October, 2009
Went for a stroll around Adana today, going to the train station, the Sabanci Mosque (the largest in Turkey) and the Roman bridge built by either Hadrian or Justinian. All very impressive pieces of architecture.
A person working for the mosque was kind enough to show us around and bring us to the top of one of the minarets (in a very very small lift).
To Aleppo in Syria tomorrow, all things going well.
Some pics below the fold:
[cross posted to thestory.ie]
For the record and as part of an ongoing FOI request, here are all expenses and salaries of all TDs and Senators, 2005 – 2008. I received them today via email from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. We hope to digitise this data shortly. I also received the following note:
In relation to the break down of allowances I wish to clarify the following:
1. Telephone Allowance is paid as an annual allowance on a quarterly basis to all Members. The allocation of this allowance to specific telephone bills is a matter for each individual Member, consequently the allowance is not quantified into land line calls and mobile phone calls. Any expenses incurred by members over and above this allowance have to be met by the individual Member.
2. Each member is also entitled to 1,750 “Post Office Preferred, pre-paid DL (one third A4) sized envelopes each month. Any postal charges that are over and above the pre-paid amount must be paid by the Member at the time of posting.
3. Daily Allowances appear within the Travel and Subsistence amounts on the records of any Member who is claiming Daily Allowance, this allowance is a flat rate allowance and there is no mileage element. Members who live within 15 miles of Leinster House can only claim this Daily Allowance.
4. The Travel and Subsistence Allowance for Members is paid as a combined figure through our financial management system and appears in the record as one monetary amount, consequently the record as released will give an overall figure for Travel and Subsistence in each subsequent year.
5. The Allowance to attend in the Houses for the purpose of conducting parliamentary business with other Members and the allowance to use the House facilities are again paid through our Financial Management System. These allowances are processed with the travel and overnight element of the claim, consequently they again appear within the Travel and Subsistence record as a monetary amount in the overall record. There are 25 nights allowed for using the House facilities and 5 nights for conducting parliamentary business.
6. Payments made in a given year can relate to a claim period for the same or a previous year.
7. Office and position holders have higher allowances due to the higher expenses they are deemed to have incurred.
Please note that former Members of the Oireachtas, Mr Tony Gregory T.D., Mr Joe Sherlock and Mr. Seamus Brennan T.D. (former Minister) and Senators Tony Kett, Kate Walsh, Peter Callanan details of whose expenses are included, have since died.
I would like to draw your attention to an administrative error which occurred in the payment of the Constituency Office Maintenance Allowance (COMA) which was beyond the control of Members. This allowance was overpaid by €931.83 in 2008 to re-elected Members due to a calculation error. As the COMA is paid in arrears, this overpayment took place in January 2008 and it therefore appears in the 2008 records. Accordingly the COMA for 2008 is overstated by €931.83. All Members affected were notified and all monies have been fully recouped. You should also note that some Coma payments made in 2008 related to expenses incurred in previous years which were not claimed until 2008.
You should also be aware that while some Members have monies showing in two positions, e.g. whip to a party and a committee position this signifies that they held these positions at different times in the year. The Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial, Parliamentary, Judicial and Court Officers Amendment Act 1998, states under Section 6(2) that “If a member is eligible during any period to receive more than one of the allowances provided for in sections 3, 4 and 5 of this Act, only the higher or highest of those allowances shall be paid or payable to the member during that period”.
I would also like to clarify that the amounts which appear for Members in receipt of Committee Allowances for 2008 in most cases are not an annual figure as various Members were allocated positions in 2007 and payment for these positions were not paid until 2008. The figures which appear are not reflective of annual amounts. I have included a schedule of specified position amounts which were in effect during 2008 for your assistance.
You should also be aware that following a Boundary Commission Report in 2007, several constituency boundaries were revised and re-categorised. All Members in constituencies which were re-categorised were reverted to the lowest rate and were subsequently repaid the correct allowance in January 2008, which in some cases included arrears. The figures which appear in 2008 again for some Members are not reflective of an annual amount.
It took months of work by Ken Foxe at the Sunday Tribune. His efforts deserve every applause.
For my own part, I started posting Ken’s FOI work online on August 18. I hope this helped in some way to get Ken’s work more exposure, and help force this resignation. For even half of the trips at the Department of Tourism, John O’Donoghue should have resigned. It took another set of expenses to tip it over the edge.
Mr O’Donoghue is a national disgrace. He has disgraced his party, disgraced the office he holds, disgraced our parliament, and disgraced our country.
But the FOI work continues.
Update: Taoiseach’s statment:
“In indicating his intention to step down from the office of Ceann Comhairle, John O’Donoghue TD, acted in the best interests of Dáil Éireann,
and the office of Ceann Comhairle. He has been a most effective and fair Ceann Comhairle who has acted with commitment and integrity to ensure that the members of Dáil Éireann could debate freely and fairly the issues of the day.”
“The Ceann Comhairle has indicated that he wishes to make a statement to the House next week, I respect his right to do that. I thank him for his contribution to this Dáil as Ceann Comhairle and I wish him well for the future.”
For the record. Total expenses so far revealed (2006 – 2009): more than €700,000.
Incurred as Minister for Arts Sport and Tourism:
JOD Part 1 (India)
JOD Part 2 (Birmingham)
JOD Part 3 (Berlin)
JOD Part 4 (London)
JOD Part 5 (London)
JOD Part 6 (Venice)
JOD Part 7 (Manchester)
JOD Part 8 (New York)
JOD Part 9 (Turin)
JOD Part 10 (Stuttgart)
JOD Part 11 (Paris) (yet to be scanned by myself!)
Incurred as Ceann Comhairle, 2007 – 2009:
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 each person. 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?
Over at thestory.ie, myself and Mark have been working on the details contained in the Fas internal audit report into Greg Craig. It makes for interesting reading.
These documents became available because of an FOI request of Ken Foxe and the Sunday Tribune, which paid €600 for this information. Details were due to be published on Sunday October 4. John O’Donoghue pre-empted this by publishing the information today.
All receipts (PDFs):
[cross posted to thestory.ie]
In 2006 the Government went on a trade mission to India. Mary Hanafin as Minister for Education went along. I put in the following FOI request:
1) The Minister’s schedule and appointments between January 1, 2006 and March 1, 2006.
2) A breakdown of flight costs, accommodation costs, hospitality costs, and any other costs borne by the Department for a trip taken by the Minister to India in January 2006, and a breakdown of any expenses claimed.
I will upload the schedule later. The total trip cost €26,421.14. Flights cost €20,912.84. Ms Hanafin’s flight alone cost €8,990.28.
For now, here is the spreadsheet of costs (go to the bottom of the sheet and click “costs India trip” :
Hanafin India 2006
I do not believe removing the names of other people who went on the trip is warranted under Section 28 (1) (personal information). I will be appealing this element of the request.
[cross posted to thestory.ie]
The Independent leads tomorrow with a story about €100m in outstanding loans on which former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean FitzPatrick is apparently not paying interest. That’s an interest bill of €400,000 a month, but no repayments are being made.
This actually partly relates to my story the other day about Anglo-Irish Nominees Ltd.
We know Mr FitzPatrick had personal loans from Anglo. But those loans did not include lending like the Atrium deal set out here. Money was lent to a company in which he appears to have had a beneficial interest. I wonder how much of Anglo’s lending related to Mr FitzPatrick’s personal interest in investments? This is on top of the personal loans we are already aware of.
The shareholders in Tysan, John Kerry Keane, Paul Coulson, Denis O’Brien, Lindat Limited, Lar Bradshaw, Sean Fitzpatrick, Gary McGann, Paddy Wright, Sean Melly, Pat Gunne, Longstone Estates Limited and Lochlann Quinn, don’t seem to have invested anything in the company apart from €3k share capital.
The liabilities of the company are pretty much all bank loans. The charge indicates there is no personal recourse to the borrowers. Anglo funded €70m of the purchase in 2005 and the 2006 accounts for Balcuik show an “ultimate shareholders loan” of €30m (probably lent by Anglo). The property was then revalued to €137m, handy that, and Anglo increased the borrowings and repaid the €30m to the shareholders. So there is no equity. Anglo get arrangement fees of around €2m and as much interest as possible and probably all of the risk.
And how many more of Anglo’s staff have loans, directly or indirectly, with Anglo?
And how many of these loans are going to be written off at taxpayer expense?
And of course the other question is this:
When Brian Lenihan met Sean FitzPatrick on September 18, 2008, the same day the first PwC report was requested, was Mr Lenihan, or the Regulator or Central Bank, already aware or made aware, of the extent of Mr FitzPatrick’s loans, direct or indirect?
It seems to me that when the results of that first PwC report on Anglo were given to the Government on September 27, just two days before the night of the bank guarantee, the Government, or its regulatory agencies, or Mr Lenihan himself, must have been aware of the extent of Mr FitzPatrick’s loans. The loans were too big for them not to be aware.
And were that the case, Anglo, including all of its deposits and liabilities, was guaranteed despite that knowledge.