Slow progress on increased spending accountability

Determining how elected officials spend tax dollars should not require the effort of one or more access to information requests.

Last week I released my second annual accountability report to the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla and was encouraged by the strong level of response from local residents and from media on the efforts to increase transparency.

As one member of the media pointed out, determining how elected officials spend tax dollars should not require the effort of one or more access to information requests.

I agree.

Those who disagree with releasing more detailed financial information often point out that the amounts of money in question are comparatively small as a percentage of overall spending and that the increased administration required is ultimately, not cost effective.

While these are valid arguments and should be considered on a case by case basis to ensure there is indeed a benefit to the public, they should not be used as a barrier against increased public scrutiny.

There is also a more compelling consideration and that is the matter of public trust.

Citizens expect elected officials to act honourably and to spend tax dollars prudently in a fiscally respectful and accountable manner.

As we also know, those objectives are not always met and over time this can diminish the trust that citizens have in their government.

While the media is often fixated on those incidents where tax dollars were not spent in an acceptable manner, often there is much less attention paid to genuine efforts that are being made to help increase fiscal accountability.

Last week I mentioned that the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy was implementing new or revised rules that, in my view, will help to keep expenses in check across the board.

This week I would like to reference some of the changes that I wholeheartedly support.

One of the more common criticisms of House of Commons expense reporting is that it has traditionally been lacking in detail and is only posted once a year. To rectify these deficiencies, the reports to the public will now be released quarterly (beginning in April, 2014) and more detail will be provided.

In future reports, secondary accommodation expenses will be reported as a separate category while events, gifts and meeting expenses will also be reported in individual categories and not consolidated, as is the case currently.

Travel rules will also be changed to include a requirement that a traveller must be identified, the destination, dates and purpose of travel and individual trip cost clearly stated.

Currently many of these details are reported only in a consolidated annual format.

Aside from these changes being implemented by the House of Commons, many Members of Parliament within the Conservative and Liberal caucuses are also volunteering to begin publicly posting monthly expenses that will be posted on the MP’s website.

Although the NDP have currently refused to join these efforts to voluntarily disclose monthly MP travel expenses, it is encouraging that a majority of MP’s not in the NDP are supporting these volunteer efforts to help increase transparency.

I will also be among those MPs participating in the voluntary expense disclosure that is linked to my MP website.

I would like to thank the many citizens who have taken the time to voice strong support for increased financial transparency and accountability in MP spending.

Having strong support from the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla for increased expense reporting is a message that I continue to share and support in Ottawa.

Much as with the changes to the MP pension plan these proposals are not always popular within the Parliamentary precinct however having a strong mandate from citizens is an important part of our democratic process.

Although more work is still required in these areas, based on the feedback I have received from taxpayers I will continue to support efforts that increase the transparency of MP spending.

If you have a question in this or any matter before the House please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

I can be reached via email at dan.albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

Dan Albas is the MP for Okanagan Coquihalla.