This weekend I heard an MP confide that they had missed a Tuesday of Parliament because they had an important public meeting in their constituency to attend that evening. They could easily have flown to parliament for the day, but did not want to be portrayed by the media as profligate, “wasting the taxpayers’ money”, by using too much air-travel. They spent the day working from home on constituency and office work, but missed the core activity of MPs – debating bills in the House.
There are stories too that MPs are requiring their EAs to spend large amounts of time finding cheaper flights and accommodation too. There’s a false economy, the MPs’ reported expenses are lower, but actually a whole lot of more valuable work can’t be done by the EAs.
Is this the desired effect of the chill wind blowing from the media on our representatives’ expenses, that even John Key warned about?
I’d rather our MPs could do their jobs – parliament holding the government to account, and ministers able to focus on the important parts of their portfolio – rather than carefully going through their hotel bills, making sure that each and every item was put on the right card. I don’t want them to waste our money and their personal spending should be at their own expense; but if they put it on the government credit card and sort out the bill when it comes through, I don’t see how that affects me.
The true story of this expenses “scandal” is that there is no story, other than a bit of titillation over one member’s porn fetish. Ministers do not even hold their credit cards, their chiefs of staff do – so there never was going to be a chance for them to run their household on it.
Ministerial Services were quite happy for ministers to set their expenses square when bills came in; like many laws and company regulations the letter of the law is ignored for sensible ease of use. The alternative is either that a large amount of waste of time and money is incurred by the minister and their staff as they carefully split bills between many cards at the time; or that the minister uses their personal card all the time. As a 4 week trip overseas can stretch to $50,000 for a minister and their party, that is probably beyond even most minister’s credit card limits, and even then they’d still have to go through a credit card bill line-by-line with Ministerial Services, showing what needed refunding. And how would a $50,000 cheque from the government to a minister look to the press?
As long as they pay the money back, no worries.
So why did the Minister for Ministerial Services, John Key, decide to agree to spend over $50,000 on a OIA request showing that Labour ministers conformed to the rules as administered by Ministerial Services over their tenure? And why did he have the receipts all released while Phil Goff was in China? One can but speculate.
In the meantime John Key follows in good National tradition of waste by penny-pinching. I’ve heard an ex-Minister say how much more effective they were on their travels for having the support of their spouse with them: is John Key’s media-friendly stance of “no partners on trips” reducing how well we are represented overseas? But this is just in keeping with a government that stops home-help for the elderly so they end up in hospital costing us a lot more to keep people in a much sadder state; or stopping ACC funding certain immediate treatments that mean the health system will have to spend much more in the long term on chronic conditions.
Sometimes, it just makes sense to spend the money.