Please join us at

Get the posts on my new blog by e-mail. Enter your e-mail address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

New posts on

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who wants free money?

I've been watching the shenanigans over in Newfoundland for the last year or so. You see, apparently the purse strings at the House of Assembly were rather loose. Politicians were misusing their constituency allowances and getting more than they were supposed to get. Sometimes they were getting a LOT more than they were supposed to get. Millions of dollars were spent on trinkets like fridge magnets, with little or no documentation and sometimes no sign of the items that were supposedly purchased. Money was paid to a company owned by the director of financial operations.

The police have laid fraud charges against four politicians and the director of financial operations. Meanwhile, the chief justice of the Newfoundland Supreme Court's trial division did a review and submitted a 1300-page report with 80 recommendations. The auditor general released a series of damning reports naming politicians from all political parties.

The last report came out on Friday. The auditor general went through all constituency-allowance claims from 1989-2006. There were over 18,000 claims totalling $25 million. Of these, about 10% of the total cost were claims for what the AG called "inappropriate expenditures". Things like alcohol without meals, winter tires, hockey tickets and artwork. Oh yes, and double billing. Don't forget double billing!

I don't especially like it when politicians get special allowances, but for the most part I understand why they're necessary. For example, if your job requires you to have two houses, I agree that your employer should pay for the second house. I don't particularly like this, but I do understand it and think that it's generally fair. It looks like the Newfoundland House of Assembly had spending rules that were set up to be generally fair, but ended up being manipulated in a way that made them unfair.

My favourite revelation from the report falls into this category. There was a rule about constituency travel expenses: when claiming mileage for travel to the politician's district, he could claim the distance from St. John's to the midpoint of his district or to his home, whichever was farther. This sounds very fair and reasonable, doesn't it? Well, one canny fellow got out a map and discovered that the exact midpoint of his district was in the ocean. So he claimed an amount equivalent to the cost of a boat charter to that point in the ocean.


Anonymous said...

And we wonder why the Liberals face getting pwned in the upcoming election. All of this came out when the conservatives took office and let the auditor back in (you read that right, the Auditor General was barred from the House of Assembly for a large chunk of the last Liberal government's term here).

Megan said...

Yes, I should have mentioned that. MHAs decided that they didn't want their constituency claims to be audited, so they simply kicked the auditor general out. Isn't that nice? When the Conservatives took power in 2003, they let the AG back in. This is not to say that the Tories are perfect, but it's much more honourable.

Friday's report shows spending over a 17-year period. The graphs make a huge jump during what the AG calls "the period of inadequate financial controls and management practices and the lack of independent scrutiny of expenditures by the Auditor General and the Comptroller General."

All of the AG's reports are worth reading, but if you don't have time to read, just look at the graphs.