IN THE MEDIA ~ on disclosure of MPs' expenses..

Vancouver East MP says audit of MP's expenses would be redundant
By Lena Sin, The Province

Amid new doubts about financial transparency on Parliament Hill, Libby Davies, the NDP MP for Vancouver East, tried to reassure the public Friday that strict rules are in place governing the expenses of Members of Parliament.

Davies was responding to criticism over the decision of an all-party panel of MPs to reject Auditor-General Sheila Fraser’s request to look at their books.

“The rules here are very, very strict. We don’t just get money to spend,” Davies said. “Everything has to be claimed for under very strict policies and procedures and rules and believe me, we all have stories about a certain taxi receipt that was turned down because it didn’t meet some technical thing.

“There are very, very strict rules in great detail about what is and isn’t permissible.”

Davies sits on the nine-member Board of Internal Economy, which is responsible for all House of Commons spending.

On Thursday, the board, which represents all parties, rejected Fraser’s proposed audit on the basis that it’s beyond the auditor-general’s mandate.

The mandate “allows her to audit government departments and various Crown agencies as identified in the Act, but does not include the legislative branch, which includes the House of Commons,” the board said in a statement.

While this may be true, nothing prevents MPs from inviting the auditor-general in to perform audits — something that has been done on two previous occasions.

Davies defended the board’s decision, arguing that in addition to strict rules governing expenses, there is also an external audit done on the House of Commons every year by accounting firm KPMG, which includes an audit on MPs’ expenses.

As well, taxpayers can view MPs expenditures online — including a general breakdown into transit, office supplies, printing, telephone costs, office furniture and equipment and a category called “other.”

Of course, it’s the “other” category that garners the most interest, but Davies said she did not think an item-by-item breakdown was necessary.

Fraser has argued the current auditing system isn’t good enough. She says her team of auditors would go deeper to ensure taxpayers are getting good value for the more than $500 million in public money spent annually on MPs expenditures.

Ujjal Dosanjh and Joyce Murray, both Liberal MPs in B.C., said they had no reason to question the board’s decision.

Dosanjh, who represents Vancouver South, reiterated that the House of Commons “looks at every receipt that goes in.”

But Peter Julian, the NDP MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, said that given the level of public skepticism, he thinks the auditor-general should be invited to perform the proposed audit.

“I think this is one time when the public would probably agree with duplication and a secondary audit just to confirm how rigorous the financial accounting is with the House of Commons,” he said.

The ruling comes on the heels of an MLA expenditure scandal in Nova Scotia and a 2009 parliamentary expense scandal in Britain that led to the resignation of 20 cabinet ministers and backbenchers.

Jay Hill, the Conservative MP for Prince George-Peace River and spokesman for the board, did not return a call from The Province.

• To view your MPs expenses, visit www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/boie-e.htm and click on the link titled “Individual Members’ Expenditures Report.”

— with files from Canwest News Service.

lsin@theprovince.com

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