I welcome the opportunity to speak again on this matter. In September last year the Comptroller and Auditor General published a value for money report on the Project Eagle sales process. As we know, while some findings were accepted, there were clear differences of opinion on a number of findings in the report. Since its publication, the Committee of Public Accounts which is chaired by Deputy Sean Fleming has held numerous public sessions over a number of months to discuss the report. A large number of parties have assisted the committee with this work, including senior members of the National Asset Management Agency, in particular its executive team; past and current board members of NAMA; Lazard which was NAMA's financial adviser; Cerberus which was the purchaser of the portfolio; me, as Minister for Finance, and officials from my Department; the former Northern Ireland deputy First Minister; the Comptroller and Auditor General and his officials. The committee also received extensive documentation on the transaction from the National Asset Management Agency and other parties, including the Department of Finance.
The National Asset Management Agency has appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts to answer questions relating to Project Eagle on eight separate occasions. NAMA estimates that it has responded to almost 2,000 oral questions during these appearances and provided the committee with written responses to an additional 100 questions. We have also witnessed a similar extensive examination of aspects of the transaction by the Northern Ireland Assembly involving significant amounts of documentary evidence and witness testimony.
All this evidence - hundreds of hours of witness testimony and thousands of pages of documentary evidence - is publicly available on the Internet to anyone who is interested. I would encourage those considering a commission of investigation into NAMA's activities to study this evidence, if they have not already done so. NAMA has answered every question put to it by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts. I acknowledge that there are differences of opinion but there are also findings on which we all agree. The Committee of Public Accounts will soon publish its findings and I look forward to reading that report. While I will await the committee's report, based on the evidence I also accept that the parties involved are entitled to hold differing opinions on matters of commercial judgment and that this does not imply wrongdoing by any party. Today, I do not believe that sufficient grounds have been established on which to progress a commission of investigation without first taking the views of the Committee of Public Accounts into account.
I would like to comment on ongoing criminal investigations. It has been suggested by some that arrests associated with the UK NCA investigation imply wrongdoing on the part of NAMA. On the contrary, NAMA advise that the UK NCA has confirmed that no aspect of the agency’s activities are under investigation. Deputy Wallace has stated previously that he has brought important information to the attention of the Garda Síochána. We should commend him for doing so if he believes such action is warranted. Anyone who believes he or she has such information should bring it to the Garda Síochána and allow it to assess and, if necessary, investigate it. After all, it is the role of the Garda to determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation in this State. As far as I am aware no such an investigation is being pursued by the Garda. I am also aware that the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI have examined elements of the transaction. Should those agencies wish to engage with NAMA, NAMA has made it clear that it is more than willing to do so. I want it to be clear that the allegations of wrongdoing that have been made against particular individuals, and that are being criminally investigated, are a cause of concern. These concerns will remain until investigations are concluded and their findings are made known. As I speak, these investigations have not concluded and we do not know their findings. This Government, and I hope this House, supports each of these investigations and stands ready to assist in any way that is helpful.
There may well be calls today in the context of this debate for other NAMA transactions to be reviewed, either through a commission of investigation or otherwise. As we know, the Comptroller and Auditor General reviews the accounts and operations of NAMA. As Deputies should be already aware, the Comptroller and Auditor General is currently reviewing and assessing a broad sample of approximately 50 NAMA transactions from a value for money perspective under section 226 of the NAMA Act. I am sure Members will agree that we are looking forward to receiving the Comptroller and Auditor General's section 226 report, which I expect to be, as is always the work of the Comptroller and Auditor, very thorough.
I have little doubt that the calls to change NAMA's mandate or even halt NAMA’s activities will continue. A change of mandate is outside the scope of a commission of investigation but I will attempt to summarise the position as, unfortunately, public discourse rarely captures what the agency can and cannot do. I want it to be very clear that NAMA’s original mandate remains in place and will remain in place until it is fully wound down. NAMA has the independence to decide on the most appropriate strategies for achieving that mandate. In any market, but particularly in an open and transparent market such as Ireland, a move to constrain NAMA’s activities would be commercially discriminatory and would irreparably damage our international reputation as a secure and transparent place to do business. In this regard, I point to the many unfinished housing estates that have been brought to completion, the dilapidated hotels that have been renovated and brought back into the market and the ugly skeletons of abandoned office and apartment developments that have been completed. This has only been accomplished through the significant investment in these assets and our economy by the purchasers of NAMA, IBRC and banks' loan and asset sales.
It is as important today as it ever was that Ireland remains open to investment capital for the development of our economy across the risk spectrum of investment opportunities. I will not direct NAMA to halt or change its sales strategies nor will I direct it to do anything that is contrary to its commercial mandate, which it is entitled to do under the NAMA Acts. NAMA expects to have repaid €30.2 billion of its senior debt by the end of this year and to ultimately deliver a surplus of €2.3 billion. We must step back and realise what an achievement this will be. Many doubted whether NAMA could ever repay its debts let alone generate a profit of up to €2.3 billion, as is currently expected. Let there be no mistake, this surplus is a profit in every sense and far exceeds our expectations when NAMA was established. Many commentators attempt to disparage NAMA’s achievements, referring to the original amount borrowed as the value of the loans when reporting on loan sales and claiming that selling loans for less than the original borrowed amount constitutes a loss by NAMA. This could not be further from the truth. NAMA paid the Irish banks €31.8 billion for loans valued at €26.2 billion. This purchase included an overpayment of €5.6 billion of state aid in the form of additional capital for our failing banks. Unfortunately, in the context of the financial crisis, the fact that the amount owed on those loans was €74 billion really has no direct bearing on their value. The chance of recovering €74 billion on these loans was lost in the financial crisis. It is the borrower's ability to repay the loan and the intrinsic value of the asset that determines its value. As we know many borrowers have faced difficulty repaying the full amount they borrowed.
I am well aware that last year the Taoiseach invited, received and discussed submissions from party leaders on this matter and that, in principle, there was agreement to progress a commission of investigation, if required. Last week, the Taoiseach, when referring to the report to be produced by the Committee of Public Accounts stated in the Dáil that it is sensible to wait to receive that report and to consider its findings before returning to the commission of investigation proposal. The Taoiseach went on to comment on the significant limitations on the work of the commission given the location of potential witnesses and documentation outside the jurisdiction, ongoing criminal investigations and the likely cost of such a commission of investigation. These limitations may ultimately be time bound but they cannot be ignored today and should be taken into account when considering possible terms of reference. The current limitations do not arise with respect to NAMA providing evidence because NAMA is already accountable for its operations under the NAMA Act. As I have already mentioned, NAMA has provided all documentation and has answered all questions put to it regarding suspicions about any transaction.
A commission of investigation, if progressed, cannot attempt to supplant or circumvent the functions of the Garda or any other law enforcement agency. To do so would be inappropriate and could jeopardise legitimate investigations and certainly would not be welcomed by the appropriate authorities. What should be most obvious, but is often overlooked, is that a commission of investigation cannot deal with wide-ranging and non-specific claims. If there is a political desire to advance a commission of investigation, the House must take collective responsibility for its costs, timing, terms of reference and implementation. For a commission of investigation to succeed, it is right that we give our attention to matters which could justifiably, realistically and specifically be examined.
Although I have yet to hear a specific and substantiated allegation of wrongdoing against NAMA, I invite Deputies who believe they have information to enable them to make such an allegation to do so. Thus, if we move to a commission of inquiry, it will be based on specific allegations and information that may be investigated.
NAMA is clearly progressing its mandate ahead of expectations, and we must allow the agency to continue its work. We should not derail this good work by launching, among other things, a commission of investigation that is unfocused and ill defined. In the interim, I believe the upcoming report of the Committee of Public Accounts will provide useful additional material for this House to consider. Until we are aware of and understand the opinions of the Committee of Public Accounts, however, we cannot realistically propose taking further action at this time. Of course, we do not rule out such action.