Saturday, May 16, 2009

More on those expense claims

The Guardian had a pretty good article in it's G2 section yesterday which was an interview the journalist who has been working for five years to uncover the detail behind the expenses claims.
Interesting reading. The journalist, Heather Brook, put in several Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to find out what the MPs spend their money on. Several times her request was turned down. Her efforts to get the information were thwarted at every step:

  • In 2004, after finding someone who knew what an FOI request was (despite the the FOI act having been in place since 2000) she was told that expenses would be published in October 2004' - this turned out to be bulk figures in categories like travel, staff, second homes.
  • A request for travel information was refused.
  • A request for names and salaries of staff was refused by the then Speaker of the House.A request for info on second homes was rejected
  • A request sent to the Information commissioner sat in his in tray for a year - FOI requests should be dealt with within 20 days.
  • In June 2007 the Information commissioner decided that the expenses could be broken down into further categories, but the actual receipts could not be published - actually creating more work for staff and still hiding the information.
When the case finally got to court the following reasons were given for now allowing the public to see the receipts:

"MPs should be allowed to carry on their duties free from interference ..." Not if it they are spending the tax payer's money this inappropiately.

"Public confidence is not the overriding concern per se ..." Well it fucking well should be.

"Transparency will damage democracy." HOW?

"What you are doing is preparing a peephole into the private lives of a member, which will either distract them or lead them into additional questions which they feel they have to defend themselves." It's not a private matter if it's public money. If it distracts them from their duties they are probably doing something wrong.

As for the checking and verifying of expenses claims:

"There is checking where there are receipts. Where there are no receipts there is no checking....If it's below £250 then the assumption is that it's going to be reasonable."

There is a John Lewis list which allows MPs to claim for a plasma tv. But ipods are apparently not allowed.

She then went to the high court. Eventually what we've been hearing about this past week came out. It's well worth reading the article as I've only summarised the first half.

Call me naive, but I never would have thought that our MPs were this corrupt. I am disgusted.

I say congratulations to Heather Brooke for bringing this crap out into the public eye. It's good to see that investigative journalism is still alive. The last case I remember is the Hamilton's corruption case, investigated by The Guardian. Also involving expenses claims. There's a coincidence.

1 comment:

cerebus660 said...

And now the speaker has been forced out. Doesn't the word "scapegoat" spring to mind?Sure, he was weak and no patch on Betty Boothroyd, but this is just shifting the blame from a bunch of chickenshits. Don't expect a high turnout in the forthcoming elections :)