Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What the Parliamentary Services Commission should do

The Parliamentary Services Commission will be meeting tonight to discuss the issue of MP's international travel. But there's a problem: the commission is composed entirely of MPs. While the membership isn't publicly listed on Parliament's website, it currently consists of

  • Lockwood Smith (90%)
  • Gerry Brownlee (90%)
  • Darren Hughes (50%)
  • Annette King (90%)
  • Chris Tremain (25%)
  • Heather Roy (50%)
  • Metiria Turei (50%)
  • Te Ururoa Flavell (25%)
  • Jim Anderton (90%)

In case you were wondering, the numbers after their names are the level of discount they are currently entitled to; Smith, King, and Anderton are also entitled to a 90% lifetime discount once they retire, while Brownlee is entitled to a 75% lifetime discount. Which is a roundabout way of saying that they have an enormous conflict of interest over this decision.

Basic principles of ethics say that people should not make decisions in which they have conflicts of interest. To do so creates a risk (and guarantees the perception) of corruption. The Cabinet Manual requires Ministers to declare such conflicts, and stand aside if necessary. But no such rules apply to the Parliamentary Services Commission. And MPs wonder why we think they're all corrupt...

The PSC cannot make this decision - not if it wants to retain a shred of public confidence in Parliament and our politicians. Instead, it should do what it should have done a long time ago: establish an independent review outside Parliament to examine (and take public submissions on) the whole issue of MPs and former MPs expenses and allowances. In the meantime, it could suspend the rebate, or require its use to be approved by party leaders, until new rules are established after the review reports back.

Anything less than this, and Parliament will again earn its reputation. And they will only have themselves to blame for it.

Correction: Corrected membership - Heather Roy replaced John Boscowen when he became a Minister, and Chris Tremain replaced Nathan Guy when the latter became an Associate Minister.