Ex­pense abuse eas­ily solved

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

I n terms of the money in­volved and risk to the pub­lic, the weight­i­est theme in this week’s re­port from Nova Sco­tia’s au­di­tor gen­eral is the lack­adaisi­cal pro­vin­cial over­sight of pub­lic-pri­vate school part­ner­ships. To se­lect just one is­sue from this sec­tion, Jac­ques La­pointe and his au­di­tors es­ti­mate the pri­vate school build­ing own­ers who’ve con­tracted clean­ing and main­te­nance ser­vices from school boards would stand to profit by $52 mil­lion over 20 years be­cause the boards are paid a lot less for pro­vid­ing the ser­vices than the prov­ince is pay­ing the own­ers through lease ar­range­ments to clean and main­tain the build­ings.

But this stuff is com­pli­cated and bor­ing, even in sum­mary, and few tax­pay­ers want to wade through the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s dis­agree­ment with the au­di­tor gen­eral’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of P3 leases.

No, what we want to know is which MLA bought that $738 espresso cof­fee maker (Fu­tureShop’s best, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, is a $449.99 cheapo) and how did Glace Bay Lib­eral MLA Dave Wil­son man­age to bunch up the re­ceipt for his $400 pa­tio set with his ex­pense claim sub­mis­sion? Was there chewed gum in his pocket, and did he ex­pense that too?

Will our va­ca­tion­ing premier, Dar­rell Dex­ter, post to Flickr some of those stun­ning pho­tos he must be snap­ping with that $2,150 dig­i­tal cam­era? And is it pre­ferred eti­quette for those tak­ing up the open in­vi­ta­tion to de­scend on the home of Yar­mouth Tory MLA Richard Hurl­burt dur­ing a power out­age, pets and kids in tow, to bring salad or a can of diesel fuel to feed that $7,995 gen­er­a­tor?

Th­ese are the press­ing ques­tions Nova Sco­tians want to talk about. Does that make us friv­o­lous, cyn­i­cal jokesters? Well, of course, but there’s more to it.

Eth­i­cal be­hav­iour does not con­sist in get­ting away with what you can un­der the rules. It’s do­ing the right thing in the ab­sence of rules. This is one rea­son that sto­ries such as La­pointe’s rev­e­la­tions on ex­ces­sive MLA ex­pense claims grab pub­lic at­ten­tion and why the ex­pla­na­tion that the rules are lax and im­pre­cise is so in­ad­e­quate.

North­side Tory MLA Ce­cil Clarke, who was re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing the MLA ex­pense sys­tem when he was Speaker of the House, noted this week that the au­di­tor gen­eral found noth­ing il­le­gal or fraud­u­lent, and Clarke says he knows of no MLA who “ know­ingly is try­ing to bilk Nova Sco­tians out of their tax dol­lars.” Clarke con­fuses rules and ethics, as is com­mon. On the ba­sis of what’s been re­vealed, his claim that no one’s try­ing to bilk Nova Sco­tians just doesn’t stand up.

The new gov­ern­ment has pressed some re­forms to the ex­pense sys­tem, hop­ing to look proac­tive but more likely act­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the re­port we now have. There will be more rules, which is fine, but there’s a sim­ple so­lu­tion that would largely fix the thing. Post item­ized, in­di­vid­ual ex­penses on the In­ter­net as soon as they’re paid – ev­ery penny. Bada boom bada bing! Prob­lem solved.

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