Some will take all they can

Speaker Lockwood Smith has put an end to subsidised travel for MPs - or at least those still in parliament.

But that still leaves the question of how to pay work related overseas travel costs for MPs:

Smith announced last night that he would ask the Parliamentary Service to come up with a replacement scheme to fund work-related travel.

“It’s important that MPs have some ability to travel overseas on legitimate party business.

“Not having access … would restrict the ability of members, especially Opposition members, from gaining important skills and knowledge overseas. The exposure is often valuable preparation for members who may eventually become ministers.”

Smith said the detail of the scheme would be decided later, but it would have to be for travel that was on parliamentary business only and be subject to an approval process with appropriate controls, transparency and accountability. It would also have to be simple to administer.

His instinct was that the new scheme would be run by the Parliamentary Service and that it would retain an element of personal contributions from MPs. “I’m not looking at a free scheme.”

Kiwiblog had a better idea:

Parliamentary Service should not be placed in a position where they have to judge whether a trip has enough “work” in it to qualify for a subsidised airfare.

The answer, as I have said before, is to fund international travel out of the leader’s budget. A party leader is far better positioned to decide whether a trip is worthwhile, and they will have an incentive not to say yes to the more dubious proposals, because the more they approve for travel, the less they have for other purposes (staff, policy, research, propaganda etc).

So it is vital that any money for travel not be ring-fenced. The moment you do that, you encourage people to come up with ways to use it all. It must be part of the “bulk” fund that goes to each parliamentary party. 

 He’s right, some people will always take everything they can and play the game to the limit of the rules.

It’s not fair to expect Parliamentary Services to make judgements on what fits the rules and what doesn’t. After the credit card fiascos I don’t have much confidence that they’d do it as it should be done anyway.

Far better to bulk fund it and let the leader decide who has a legitimate claim for public money and who should reach into their own pockets.

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5 Responses to Some will take all they can

  1. Deborah says:

    I disagree. Once it goes into a Leader’s fund, the leader can use it to punish or reward MPs. It becomes one more reason for MPs to fear speaking out against decisions they don’t agree with, even in caucus.

    I’d rather see something like a sabbatical fund, administered by an independent body, to which MPS could apply. The application would be to approve the trip, and then the funds would be provided. Perhaps there could be some kind of entitlement rules, as there are with academic sabbaticals: one week (10 days? two weeks?) of study/work trip for each year of service. The leave could be used as it is earned, or saved up and used for a longer trip after two years, or whatever. As with most employees, an MP’s partner could choose to accompany her or him, and share hotel rooms, but the partner would be expected to pay for her or his own airfares and so on.

  2. Fredinthegrass says:

    Good point Deborah.
    It is a vexed question, and one that requires getting it ‘right’.
    Sad indictment on those in Parliament that they cant be trusted to play fair though!

  3. homepaddock says:

    Deborah – I must know a fairer breed of leader than you do :)

  4. Deborah says:

    :-)

    But… Rob Muldoon?

    Even so, the serious point is the vulnerability it creates. I think we agree about the need to have some form of funding for overseas travel, but working out a reasonable way to administer it could be very, very tricky.

  5. homepaddock says:

    Fair call on Muldoon though he was long gone before I became invovled with National and I was thinking of much more recent leaders.

    We do agree about the need for some form of funding for overseas travel and that a reasonable way to do it is very, very tricky.

    Whatever the system allowing all payments to be public will help.

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