Is it Groundhog Day for the expenses scandal?
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Oct 18, 2012
Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes they’re pretty hefty ones, and our instinct is to cover it up so that nobody finds out. When they do, it becomes a whole lot worse, and we’re in trouble for not just the initial mistake, but also for trying to hide it.
It’s likely that none of you reading this have ever fiddled your parliamentary expenses by renting out your taxpayer-funded house to a colleague, exploiting a loophole that allows you to make money at the expense of the public, but the point about coming clean still applies. We know some MPs are engaging in this practice - the regulators have confirmed “some MPs” are involved- but we don’t know how many and who.
It doesn’t help that Speaker of the House, John Bercow, is trying to help keep this information secret. He has written a letter to the expenses regulators, Ipsa, asking them to keep names of MPs’ landlords confidential following MPs hearing that an FoI request had been made for these data. The previous Speaker had to resign after trying to hide expenses data.
While a crackdown on expenses following the initial scandal has banned MPs from renting their subsidised homes to family members or business associates, they were cleared to rent to other MPs if they were not related to one another. This allows them to make more money from the properties that are funded by taxpayers. Trying to cover up who is exploiting this loophole is not within the spirit of the new laws brought in to try to increase transparency about how MPs are using taxpayers’ money.
In the long run, the secrecy makes things worse for MPs. After the initial expenses scandal, we all asked ourselves why it took so long for this information to come to light. They promised to change and give us information about their spending as a matter of course. It looks like nothing has changed after all.
Greater transparency generates greater trust, and a greater willingness to forgive slip-ups. Hiding information does the opposite. A storm is brewing on the horizon, and attempts to cover up information about who is renting to whom will ultimately make it all the greater. It’s time for MPs to come clean, before it’s too late.