The ongoing debacle over expenses involving Fianna Fáil senators Callely and Butler is symbolic of a number of shortcomings in our political system – notably the lack of transparency and inadequate regulatory controls over all aspects of party finance (about which, see the previous posting here). The Oireachtas website helpfully sets out the details of the existing regulations and provides up to date information on monthly allowances to TDs and Senators (information that has fed the current controversy over the two senators). There can be no doubt that this is a welcome development; it’s fine time that citizens had access to this sort of information.
But is this sufficient? Take the issue of unvouched allowances, for instance. Here are the rules relating to TDs:
‘Members select either a vouched or unvouched allowance option at the start of the year.
VOUCHED ALLOWANCE: €25,700 MAXIMUM ANNUAL AMOUNT
Where evidence in the form of vouchers or receipts is available to show that the expenses were incurred (held for five years as subject to audit)
UNVOUCHED ALLOWANCE: €15,000 MINIMUM ANNUAL AMOUNT
This amount is certified by Members as expended in accordance with the regulations.
Purposes of Allowance
1. Rent, rates and other such charges in relation to an office or offices,
2. Utilities of an office or offices (e.g. electricity and gas bills),
3. Improvements to office accommodation,
4. Signage in respect of the constituency office,
5. Purchase or maintenance of office furniture or equipment,
6. Purchase of stationery,
7. Insurance including for office accommodation or equipment and public liability insurance,
8. Cleaning of office accommodation,
9. Telephone calls, otherwise than from Leinster House, including line rental and mobile phone calls, relating to the performance of his/her duties as a Member,
10. Web hosting and other related computer costs,
11. Hiring rooms for clinics or other meetings relating to the performance of his or her duties as a Member of the Oireachtas,
12. Leaflet and newsletter distribution,
13. Advertising relating to the performance of his or her duties as a Member,
14. Attendance at conferences relating to the performance of his or her duties as a Member (except expenses relating to travel).’
I assume that it is administrative efficiency that is used as the main reason for allowing such a large proportion of unvouched claims. Is this good enough? Why should we not require full receipts for all claims? Only by that means can we ensure that the monies are used appropriately. For that matter, why can’t the receipts be scanned in and posted on the Oireachtas website for all to see? Doubtless, the vast bulk of our elected representatives make fully legitimate claims. But to be certain that this is the case right across the board, why can’t this information be provided in a fully open and transparent way?