Monday, June 14, 2010

On Ministerial credit cards

There's a kneejerk reaction in the media and society (most recently repeated by Phil Goff) in response to the exposure of systematic misuse of Ministerial credit cards: asking why they have them at all. The response to this is simple: because Ministers accrue expenses in the course of performing their public duties. They need to travel, and when travelling, they need to eat and sleep somewhere. These expenses are not covered by their Ministerial salaries, and nor should they be; it is entirely appropriate that we pay for them.

The question then is how. We could simply give Ministers a wodge of cash whenever they had to go anywhere, but that is obviously open to abuse, and lacks transparency. Credit cards OTOH, allow spending to be checked to ensure that it is within the rules, in turn allowing abuse to be identified and (ideally) punished. They're a good solution to the problem, not a poor one.

The problem then isn't in the means we use to pay for ministers' expenses, but in the character of the ministers and their tendency to rort the system to line their own pockets. And the solution to that is in our hands. If parties tolerate thieves, we should not tolerate them - and we should send a clear signal of our expectations through the ballot box.