Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Members of Parliament are called on to account for their monthly stipend spending for their constituency offices

MPs are given chance to explain stipend spending
Tribune Staff Reporter

MEMBERS of Parliament called on to account for how they spent a monthly stipend for their constituency offices are being given a chance to explain their expenditures in response to an Auditor General's report on the use of the funds.

According to Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, Auditor General Terrance Bastian completed his investigation into the expenditure of the money earlier this year, but the "full" report is not due to be released until October 2010.

"You'll get a full report of the $1,500 a month they give to MPs, how they spent it," he told The Tribune.

"The report is complete in the sense that you audit someone's account, you put forward what the situation is and they have a chance to say 'well you didn't take account of this, that etcetera'. That process is still ongoing, but when we have finished we will make it public and you will see how your MP for North Abaco and others disposed of the $1,500 he gets for operating a constituency office. You can see if he's done it in accountable fashion or not."

The Government revealed in 2009 that it was going to audit the MPs' use of constituency funds, which amount to $18,000 per year to run their constituency offices, for the first time.

The move came in the wake of the "expenses scandal" in the United Kingdom, in which many MPs were found to have misused their allowances from the public purse - ostensibly given for the purposes of covering expenses incurred "during the performance of a Member's parliamentary duties" - and were made to either resign, or pay the money back.

Others British MPs who were accused of abuse or made to pay back funds went on to announce their intention to retire from politics or found themselves "de-selected" as candidates.

Three former MPs, who resigned over the revelation of their alleged "fiddling" of the expenses, are now in the process of being criminally prosecuted for their wrongful expense claims.

While declining to go into specifics on the Bahamas expenses report, Mr Ingraham told The Tribune that "as a general statement, I think it's fair to say that most (of the country's 41 MPs) gave a fair accounting for their expenditures."

"That's a general statement and in those areas where there are questions they are being allowed to put forward the facts to support whatever it is that they may wish to put forward and the Auditor General will then be able to determine whether I'm satisfied or I'm not satisfied, and if the Auditor General is not satisfied then there are consequences for that in terms of (having to pay the money) back and so on," he added.

The audit conducted by the Auditor General covers the expenditure of the allowance since June 2007, when the Ingraham administration returned to office. Last year, MPs on both sides of the political divide said they were in agreement with the scrutiny, which they called "necessary" and a "great thing to do" to increase accountability in public finances.

The $18,000 per MP over the two-year period - 2007 to 2009 - covered by the report adds up to a total of $1,476,000 in public funds.

This is separate from the $100,000 made available for allocation by each of the MPs for constituency enhancement projects in the 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 budgets (or $8.2 million over two years for all 41 members), as reported on recently by this newspaper.

July 20, 2010