Partisan spending – possible solutions?

Here is an article from the Irish Times today outlining what we have all long suspected that senior Irish cabinet ministers indulge in a peculiarly Irish form of pork barrel, directing funds at their home constituencies. Voters are assumed to vote for candidates who have a good chance of becoming a minister in order to secure these funds for their constituency. However, the evidence is that there is little systematic delivery to cabinet ministers constituencies in general. Rather it is only the ministers who control the purse strings who appear to benefit systematically, this means the decision making minister and the minister for finance. For example, under the cabinet that was in office from mid 2004 for three years John O’Donoghue secured almost double the national average in per capita sports funding when he was minister in charge of sports. However. O’Donoghue’s constituents did rather less well when it came to primary education funding securing just below the national average at €138 per head.

However, the problem is not just the skew in funding towards particular constituencies. More worrying there is little evidence that funds are directed on the basis of policy. Part of the reason for this is that there is a lack of evidence in the relevant departments on which to base policy.

One of the factors which could account for this pattern include the electoral system which promotes intra party competition leading ministers to focus on their own re-election efforts. But would changing the electoral system fix the problem? Perhaps not. However, if ministers were forced to resign from their constituencies, as is the practice in much of Europe, a good deal of the incentive would be removed. An enhanced role for the Oireachtas vis a vis the powerful executive could also allow backbenchers to monitor spending more closely. But perhaps the fastest way to more equitable spending would be for the Government to publish all spending decisions allowing the citizenry  to do their own analysis.

9 thoughts on “Partisan spending – possible solutions?

  1. The link to the Irish Times article is missing, might want to add it, but I’ve read it in print. Great piece.

    Personally I’d plump for the ministers resigning from their constituency than the current system. There’s a great story about a lamp post blowing its fuse in Drumcondra and a load of aul’ Dublin women gathering on the road. Someone asked them why they were hanging around, they said they were waiting on the lamp to be fixed. “It’s all righ’, we already called Bertie”, they said. Bertie! The feckin’ Taoiseach!

    Cabinet members can’t be having constituencies to look after, it just adds to this clientelism, if it’s fair to call it that.

  2. Pingback: Jane Suiter on partisan political spending – The Story

  3. Clearly separating the ministerial fund allocation role from the local TD role is the most sensible, but it also the least likely, because up until now, the rules of the system have been directing politicians to act in that way, more or less, and to change those rules now would mean a steep diminution of their power, as well as prompting calls for what type of incentive structure should replace the rules that have gotten chucked. Also, given that the people making the rules are the same people benefitting from them, we have a clear case of quis custodiet ipsos custodes.

    Are there incremental reforms, other than giving out more information, which they aren’t likely to do reliably either, that you see as being useful and implementable by a party with a large-ish majority?

  4. One of the arguments against having ministers who come from outside politics or ministers who must resign their seats on appointment is that the people should be able to kick those ministers out. Of course only those people in the minister’s own constituency can kick them out, so voters were not able to punish Martin Cullen (if they had wished to) for the e-voting controversy. The people of Waterford are, but they have different interests. They will accept money being wasted nationally as long as a disproportionate amount of money is spent locally. Ministers are therefore held accountable only by a small group of voters with systematically different interests to the rest of the citizens’. As Jane’s study shows, the ministers are well aware of who holds them to account, and they behave as we would expect them to.

  5. @Eoin: and perhaps some effort might be made next election time to bring this data to the attention of these electorates? Any sense how that could be done?

  6. @stephen

    many of the changes probably need to be from within. Both Fine Gael and Labour have proposed varying degrees of political reform and perhaps could include a commitment to open government and to evidence based decision making.

    One possibility from without is to obtain data under FOI and to post it up in a searchable database allowing scrutiny..

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