Every sizeable organisation puts procedures in place for ensuring that outlays of large sums are given prior authorization and that expense claims are supported by original receipts to show that the expenditure was validly incurred. If such procedures are ineffectively monitored they are open to abuse. Indeed, many of the forensic assignments I have been  involved in relate to company expenditure that finds its way into the pockets of fraudsters who apply their skills to milk the company.

In almost every instance it is the supervisory failure of a purblind management, rather than the ingenuity of the fraudsters, that allows the abuses in question to remain undetected for so long.

 What about elected representatives?

If company directors, public sector officials and employees are, or should be, subject to basic controls over their expense allowance claims, should those whom they elect as their representatives in high office be exempt from such elementary compliance?

The public at large is so bemused by the arcane rules governing parliamentary disclosure of personal interests that the related question of profiteering from abuses of expenditure allowances has only recently come under a regulatory spotlight.

this ruling serves as a warning to all MPs that the mood of the times has changed

After a 3-year battle for disclosure of MPs’ expenses under the Freedom of Information Act, the Information Tribunal has just ruled that MPs must provide a detailed breakdown of expenses covering second homes, power and telephone bills in order to test their legitimacy. Despite indignant resistance to the very notion of accountability to those who elected them, and whose taxes they spend, this ruling serves as a warning to all MPs that the mood of the times has changed. It will no longer suffice to offer platitudes about “accountability” and “transparency” that prove to be empty when applied to their own affairs.

 But Brussels hasn’t got the message

If the arrogance that will not countenance any checks on MPs’ expense claims and the outcry that such checks will invade their privacy are at last beginning to weaken, there is little sign of a parallel shift in the European Parliament. The latest scandal (yes, another one) arises from a leaked internal audit report on the abuse by MEPs of their generous system of allowances.

The European Ombudsman, the EU’s administrative watchdog, has decided that MEPs should disclose details of their expense claims. Yet the Parliament’s most senior Committee has pompously rejected this out of hand, on the grounds that publication would be “an intrusion into family and or personal life”. I’ll say!

In the face of a scandal involving allegations of abuse on a scale so severe that parliamentary authorities have confessed to being “terrified” if the contents of the secret report reach any public forum, one senior official admitted that “some members” were beginning to recognize the need for fuller disclosure and accountability, and that “there is gradual progress towards people feeling that it is in the interests of members themselves to think about what the wider world thinks of us.”  They should prepare for a shock.

the report at the centre of the furore lies in a secret room protected by biometric locks and security guards

The European Parliament is an elected body of 785 MEPs. Their annual salaries, totaling 1.32 billion euros, are voted in by the Parliament and automatically included in the EU Budget; and their expense allowances account for more than a fifth of the Parliament’s own budget. Since the Parliament both sets and polices its own spending every eurocent of it should be open to scrutiny. Yet the report at the centre of the furore lies in a secret room protected by biometric locks and security guards. Only members of the budgetary control committee may enter – provided they make no notes and take a vow of silence.

It seems that MEPs favour transparency in every EU institution except their own!

The EC’s chief accountant Brian Gray is on record as being shocked by the report’s allegations. He is quoted in the press as stating that “there are some parliamentarians who don’t seem to have great moral belief”. Well, that’s one way of putting it, I suppose.

Any chief accountant who believes that MEPs who pay the entire unspent balance of their allowance to a single assistant, equivalent to 19 times his salary, set up companies to pay staff that do not exist, or employ family members to do precisely nothing, suffer from nothing worse than a diminished “moral belief” is obviously just the man for this particular Parliament.