Oversight for Senate (and House of Commons) Spending. Lessons learned from the UK Parliament

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MIchael Ferguson – Auditor General

June 10, 2015. During a press conference to discuss  the findings of his 2-year review of Senate spending, the Auditor General, said he was “struck by the overall lack of transparency and accountability” exercised both by the institution as a whole and by some individual senators. After auditing 80,000 claims totalling $45 millions, the audit revealed that 30 current and retired senators submitted questionable claims. NIne of those cases,  have been sent to the RCMP for possible investigation.

senate 10As the co-author of a comprehensive text on the Access to Information Act, I am both surprised and disappointed that little, if any, thought is being given to subjecting the House of Commons and the Senate to the Access to Information Act [the Act]. This this simple step which can be rapidly engineered by the Minister of Justice can produce the intended oversight results over the Senate and House of Commons. All at a very cheap price.

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Access to Information Act would give ordinary Canadians a “right of access” to ALL the travel claims submitted by Senators and MPs. Such disclosure would provide the required transparency, accountability and probing capacity for the media.

This is precisely what happened in the United Kingdom in 2009 when the Brisish public was given access to records from the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  As a result the Daily Telegraph obtained a full copy of expenses claims by parliamentarians.

Over an extended period of time the Daily Telegraph began publishing MPs’ and Peers’ expenses claims. Alongside specific allegations of incorrect claims were such as claims for the nominating a second home as primary residence, renting out home, claiming for the cost of mortgages, exploiting the ‘no receipt rule, over-claiming for food etc.

Disclosure of expenses and allowances published by the Daily Telegraph led to the resignation of  the Speaker of the UK House of Commons and no less than four members of the Cabinet as well as a number of backbenchers. It also led to the suspension of a number of Peers. In the meanwhile, the UK tax authority identified around 40 MPs, including the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, as having claimed expenses on their tax return.  Some MPs and Peers faced criminal charges for false accounting and dishonesty resulting, in some cases, in a sentence of imprisonment.

bbbAll this led to the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to manage parliamentarians  expenses at ‘arms length’ from the House.

 

Perhaps Canada does not need to re-invent the wheel.  The UK Parliament have successfully dealt with such an issue and have learned valuable lessons.  It would cost little to implement these in the Canadian context and are they are likely to produce similar quick purges of those parliamentarians who wantonly abuse their claims privileges.

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