Cantillon: Taped revelations throw harsh light on ‘light touch’ regulation
Talk of ‘all’ banks boosting balance sheets at year end do little to restore confidence in financial services sector
Former Anglo Irish Bank executives (from left) David Drumm, Peter FitzGerald and John Bowe
The latest episodes from the Anglo Tapes contain an intriguing reference to “all banks” boosting their balance sheets at year end so as to make them look prettier than might otherwise be the case.
In a tape from January 2009 the former head of treasury at Anglo, John Bowe, is heard discussing with a colleague the disquiet of the Central Bank over the way Anglo entered into a temporary €7 billion transaction with Irish Life and Permanent in September 2007, so as to bolster Anglo’s books.
He says he is drafting a document that explains the background to transactions that are “typically done to boost deposits in all banks coming up to year end” and how IL&P had asked Anglo to help it over its year end, and Anglo had asked the same of IL&P, all while the Central Bank was “effectively egging us on” through asking all Irish banks to help each other.
The comment can’t put help but add to the worries that exist about auditors and whether they are worth their very expensive fees. But they add also to another concern that the tapes raise. Imagine that we had tapes of Government ministers talking with each other on the phone, or with their party colleagues in Leinster House, or the various advisers with whom they regularly discuss the public mood. Most likely such tapes would produce a few gems and that would give people plenty to talk about concerning the quality of Irish governance.
But such a scenario would contain a very important difference to the one we are in with the Anglo tapes. We elect our politicians, and the power they hold they have because we live in a representative democracy. Not so David Drumm, Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Fingleton, and so on.
They had huge power in the sense the quality or otherwise of the decisions they made had massive implications for society. Nobody elected them, and it looks terribly like nobody regulated them. The light touch regulation so favoured by Fianna Fáil/PD during the boom seems all the more foolhardy. And you have to wonder how much has changed.