NTMA chief Michael Somers: salary has never been published

The permanent boss of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) is unlikely to be subject to civil service pay scales, meaning he or she could be in line for a huge salary package when eventually appointed.

However, the public may never know how much he or she will be paid, after the Department of Finance indicated that consideration is being given to excluding it from the scrutiny provided through the Freedom of Information (FoI) act.

Responding to a series of questions from the Sunday Tribune, a spokesman for the department said that recruitment for Nama and remuneration arrangements will be provided for in the forthcoming Nama legislation.

"Support in the interim is being provided through the NTMA [National Treasury Management Agency]. The remuneration of the interim MD [Brendan McDonagh] is set by the NTMA and there is no requirement that this is notified to the department," he said. "FoI will also be addressed in the Nama legislation. FoI does not apply to the NTMA and considerations of commercial confidentiality will have to be taken into account in assessing if it should extend to Nama."

The comments came as Dr Michael Somers, chief executive of the NTMA, which is to oversee the setting-up of the state's 'bad bank' to handle toxic loans worth up to €90bn, last week said his organisation lacks sufficient staff to run Nama.

Speaking to the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee, Dr Somers, whose salary has never been published, warned that the creation of Nama could lead to a series of legal challenges.

He told the committee that he saw "great potential for arguments down in the courts if we don't get this right".

In a statement to the Dáil last week, finance minister Brian Lenihan said Nama will be established on a statutory basis, under the aegis of the NTMA.

"The recruitment of staff, and terms and conditions of employment, are a matter for the NTMA and will not be subject to public service recruitment restrictions," he said. "Preparatory work by my department, the Office of the Attorney General, the NTMA and our legal and financial advisers for the establishment and operation of Nama on a statutory basis is underway. This includes work on the assessment of the human resource requirements and staffing needs of the agency."

Average salaries in the NTMA are over €114,000 for each of the 170 staff, which is almost twice the average public sector salary of €60,000, Somers revealed at the Public Accounts Committee hearing last week.

Somers refused to reveal details of his own salary or that of his senior executives, despite chairman Bernard Allen's suggestion that people are being paid €1m a year".

When pressed to reveal his salary on behalf of the taxpayers who pay his salary, Somers replied; "No. I do not intend to say".

Somers complained that his salary was the "subject of almost weekly reports in the Sunday newspapers... I should say that I could have been on a pension years ago, so they are getting a good deal".