Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Revealed: Contents of MEPs Expenses Report

Dutch MEP Paul van Buitenen has defied the Parliamentary Authorities and published an executive summary of the controversial report highlighting abuses of MEP expenses on his personal website.

This clearly states that the current system of staff payments, which can take numerous different contractual forms which alter depending on the MEP's nationality, is far too complicated for the Directorate General for Finance "to monitor effectively the legality, regularlity, and sound financial management of the Members' contractual arrangements".

It goes on to cite a variety of abuses, including payments of the 186000 euro staff allowance to dubious service providers who carry out irrelevant activities like child caring or trading in wood, or, in one case, no activity at all. In some cases, these providers have registered only one or indeed NO assistants to manage the MEPs office, well below the average staff ratio, and include payments to wives and family or the MEPs themselves.

In one exceptional case, an MEP was found to be the sole owner of the service provider to which he paid his allowances. This service provider was registered in a different country and did not figure in his declaration of interests (go figure!). He is now under investigation by OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud bureau.

In other forty two cases, Members who did not get re-elected paid generous 'lay-off payments' to their assistants to exhaust their budgets, one of whom received a total payout of 8890 euros from five separate MEPs over a three month period, in breach of the PEAM rules.

Other abuses related to non-payment or registration of VAT for which they are liable and inflated travel expenses for assistants (in one case, amounting to three times their annual salary).

Small wonder few wanted this to be published.

However it must be said that, if the sample of 167 MEPs is representative of the whole, the number of extreme abuses are relatively few. The really worrying thing is the fact that the vast majority of MEPs fail to register or protect their staff, fuelling fears that working for a parliamentarian often amounts to outright exploitation, particularly for stagiaires.

The audit shows that in 80% of cases, MEPs failure to register assistants with a social security scheme to protect them against unemployment or illness - a slap in the face for the majority of staff who are not recipients of their chief's largesse.

It is time the Parliament stopped trying to hide the evidence of abuses and faced up to its responsibilities, both to the staff it employs and the citizens it represents - whose tax dollar, lest we forget, is paying for these scams.

The new Members' statute, which comes into force next year, will represent a major step forwards in terms of fairness and transparency. It should be accompanied by a beefed-up assistants' statute which ensures all staff are paid a reasonable wage, through a less complex and more accountable system.

Then, and only then, can we iron out the discrepancies that make working in politics such a lottery.

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