Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time for a transparent Parliament

The Herald this morning riffs on the UK's Parliamentary expenses scandal, highlighting the amount of money our MPs get in expenses and their conspiracy of silence around it:

Not a single New Zealand MP has agreed to disclose what they do with their expenses top-ups, taxi reimbursements and accommodation allowance, despite a dozen of their British counterparts losing their jobs over similar issues.


Parliamentary whips are required to cut off travel privileges to MPs who run up too many expenses, but Labour's Darren Hughes refused to say which, if any, Labour MPs had been so penalised.

National whip Nathan Guy failed even to return calls, simply emailing across a copy of the rules on expenses and allowances.

So, MPs won't talk, whips won't talk, and the Speaker thinks the idea of disclosure is "ridiculous". Which tells us straight out that we need some disinfecting sunshine on this issue. But worst of all, the voices we used to rely on to push for greater transparency have fallen silent:
Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons and Act leader Rodney Hide - the one-time "perkbuster" - both called for greater transparency.

But neither disclosed how much they had run up on travel, nor disclosed what they'd spent their expenses allowance on. Hide came closest: he said he had once put on drinks for staff, but did not give details.

I expect that from Hide - despite the Herald's claim, his party voted against greater transparency around MP's financial interests (it apparently being "their own business" whether they were being bribed or stood to gain from the legislation they were voting on). As for the Greens, I'm disgusted. Once upon a time, Rod Donald put up a member's bill to bring Parliament under the OIA. They should be continuing that push for transparency.

Contrary to Lockwood Smith's assertions, Parliamentary expenses are not an MPs private business. They are public business. It is our money, and we have a right to know what it is being spent on. The best way of ensuring that MPs follow the rules around expenses is to expose every last cent to public scrutiny. That's what the Scottish Parliament does - MSP's expenses are published in a searchable online database - and it sounds like a damn fine idea to me.