MLAs’ expense fund needs transparency
It’s a simple one-line item in the provincial budget — termed ‘grants’ — and covers amounts between $200,000 to $300,000 annually. Former Liberal cabinet minister Ron MacKinley jokingly referred to it a slush fund and so the term has quickly stuck. It’s a fund allowing backbench government members, Opposition and third party MLAs to claim $200 to $300 a month in expenses on top of their salaries.
Immediately, because of the secrecy and unaccountability surrounding the fund, there are questions raised. There would be far less suspicion if expense claims are simply made public on a regular basis. There is no reason why this isn’t the case. MLAs know they will face criticism and questions but they stubbornly cling to these little peccadilloes that they prefer we don’t know about.
Most spending by non-cabinet politicians are not available for the public to scrutinize, nor are they accessible through access to information legislation. No one is saying the monthly expense claims are not proper, but without public scrutiny, questions always linger. Legitimate expenses should be paid, made public and let taxpayers determine for themselves if they are appropriate.
Progress is being made. In early December it was announced that travel and mileage related to legislative work for backbench, Opposition and third party MLAs would be released. There was no formal change but the standing committee responsible decided to voluntarily release the information.
And last year, Premier Wade MacLauchlan extended disclosures currently required for cabinet ministers’ expenses to include deputy ministers, CEOs and senior advisers within government.
Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is setting the proper example by releasing all his expenses and reimbursements for everything from cell phone bills and banking fees to postage stamps.
The bottom line . . . it’s taxpayers’ money and Islanders deserve to know how their money is being spent. Politicians should lead by example and releasing all expense claims and receipts should be the norm.
Government is promising more openness and transparency and will be looking at posting additional expenses in the New Year. But why does it take stories like this to force its hand?