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Last week, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a Report on Public Sector Allowances, with recommendations on politicians’ allowances.
It advocates an ‘independent review mechanism’ to determine allowances, which should be ‘vouched or verified’ from Jan 1, 2013.
What is an ‘independent review mechanism’? If the Government appoints a review, the public may be distrustful. ‘Vouching and verification’ appears to mean one thing to the PAC committee and another to this professional accountant. The current, generous allowance for travel from home to the Dáil is unvouched, but the PAC recommendations will not change this. The report says ‘the travel and accommodation payment is subject to verification based on an attendance management system’, but clocking in does not verify that the travel allowances were spent in total, in part, or at all on travel.
At the year end, TDs sign a form to certify that they spent their travel allowance ‘on travelling to and from Leinster House from my normal place of residence, on overnight or travel expenses I was obliged to incur in the performance of my duties as a member of the Oireachtas.’ This does not vouch or verify how the money was spent.
The Houses of the Oireachtas website provides an annual summary of payments to TDs and senators. In 2011, five members opted not to receive the travel allowance, another received it but returned it all, one new TD returned €11,705 out of the €23,756, and one senator returned €95.28. All the others certified that they had spent the allowance on travel and accommodation. In the cases of Dublin (allowance €12,000 pa) and band one (25 km-60 km – allowance €28,106 pa) members, this is simply not credible.
TDs choose between €15,000 (unvouched) or €25,700 (vouched) for expenses other than travel and accommodation. The report wants all expenses vouched, but the higher amount is not subject to the FOI Act and only 10% of members provide invoices and receipts for inspection by an external auditor. Don’t be fooled. The PAC recommendations still leave scope for abuse of the system.
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