MLAs’ ex­pense fund needs trans­parency

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

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?

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