The NDP government strongly toughened their position on political expenses Thursday, claiming they are investigating and plan to make changes.
Reducing expense rates, requiring more receipts and improving transparency were all issues the party promised to look into Thursday. The Auditor General is currently auditing MLA expenses, but the NDP said they won’t wait until he’s finished to make improvements.
“We’re looking at the whole package,” Deputy Premier Frank Corbett said. “We’re not going to wait just to sit back and see what the A-G does. We’re looking at them and hopefully internally come up with some changes.”
The stance was significantly more forceful than two weeks ago, when Speaker of the House Charlie Parker said un-receipted expenses often went to help charities and individuals in need. Parker also said the party would likely wait until after the Auditor General's report to make changes.
However, Corbett said the NDP has long been unhappy with the expenses system.
“Whenever there’s no receipt there’s a chance for misuse,” he told reporters.
Corbett also said there are concerns about any group – in this case a group of MLAs called the Internal Economy Board – policing itself.
When asked why the IEB meetings were secret, Corbett replied, “I don’t know. The fact of the matter is the door is inching open bit by bit. I know that’s one of the things we’re looking at is making it a more open and transparent product.”
He added, “we’re going to make changes there. And hopefully that may be one of them.”
When those changes may actually occur is still up in the air. Premier Darrell Dexter said Thursday the government is busy dealing with other issues such as the economy and the H1N1 outbreak.
- MLAs get $1,050 every month for expenses without needing to show a receipt, despite also getting $4,198 that does require receipts.
- When an MLA leaves office they get $45,000 to close up shop that doesn’t require a receipt, despite also getting more than $12,000 that does require receipts.
- Expenses went up automatically by three per cent in January, but the public record wasn't updated until the end of July.
- Other expenses allowed include $84 un-receipted for MLAs every day the legislature sits, and a $1,470 per month housing allowance for members outside of HRM.