Friday, 7 December 2012

Called to the Bar

Freedom of Information was exercising the minds of Dáil deputies and Senators recently, with much concern expressed over the bill - but in this case it was the bar bill causing concern.

A report in the Irish Independent revealed that public representatives were outraged that they could be 'named and shamed' in future FOI requests which could reveal the amount of their bar tabs: a total of €73,000 is still outstanding this year for the Leinster House bar and restaurant.

Previous FOI disclosures have shown that several had unpaid bills exceeding a thousand Euro, with one owing €3,572. But until now, names have not been revealed; in the future, deputies and senators have been told they will be named in responses.

When it comes to expenses, the situation is more complicated. About a third of deputies receive 'unvouched' expenses - they are given an amount to spend, and not required to account for the money. The remaining two thirds are given a substantially larger sum to spend, in return for 'vouching' for their expenses - they have to have receipts. But as The revealed earlier this year, the receipts are not usually disclosable under FOI, for the simple reason that the records are not held, except by the representatives themselves (and not therefore disclosable).

The 'vouched' expenses system is monitored by a system of auditing in which only one in 10 representatives are required each year to produce their receipts. And while this probably acts as a reasonable check on corruption, it means that in only a fraction of cases the expenses are publicly available.

In the recent budget, it was announced that the system of unvouched expenses was to be ended as 'untenable'. But since this means the one third of deputies who currently receive their expenses under this system will now be able to claim about €10,000 a year extra, it's not likely to actually save money.

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