Monday, November 29, 1999

British MPs tinkering with expenses may be fined

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London, June 17 (IANS) British Members of Parliament are angry with the punitive proposals of a parliamentary watchdog to fine MPs and force them to explain themselves in public if they tinkered with their expenses in future.In a bid to prevent the MPs' expenses scandal once again, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has suggested MPs found fiddling with their expenses would be fined up to pond1,000 and all their expenses receipts would be made public.Ipsa has suggested appointing a new compliance officer, who will act when MPs are accused of breaking the rules and consider complaints from MPs about Ipsa. 'There should be a strong presumption that meetings with MPs should be held in public' with 'reputational damage' no reason for secrecy, The Guardian has quoted an Ipsa document as saying.The compliance officer will also have the power to fine MPs up to pond1,000 for refusing 'without reasonable excuse' to supply information to an investigation or to meet repayment demands. A first offence would carry a pond250 fine - reaching the maximum for a fourth transgression.Several MPs met in Westminster Hall in the parliament campus Wednesday to criticise Ipsa for the proposals as also its new rules for disbursing or reimbursing MPs' expenses. David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, one of the leading campaigners for greater transparency in the expenses system, said: 'It is indefensible that Ipsa should have set up a system which is so difficult and so complex, and, particularly for new members, has made life a nightmare.'Under new Ipsa rules implemented after the recent general elections, MPs have been told to pay expenses for new offices and flats up front, instead of the old system of payments being made directly. Ipsa has since introduced a system of loans and advances and announced delayed repayment deadlines to help MPs get their finances straight.Ipsa has also introduced an online system for filing expenses and getting reimbursements. Some MPs said they struggled with the online system while others said they accidentally accessed colleagues' expenses when they logged in. The MPs also complained that they were not allowed to speak directly to Ipsa staff and had to put all inquiries into emails.Ipsa has said it has addressed most of the MPs' complaints. Its chairman, Sir Ian Kennedy, said: 'This implementation period is an extremely challenging one for MPs - and for Ipsa. The new rules represent a complete break from the past. Independent regulation requires a significant cultural and organisational change of approach from what went before.Restoring public confidence in the expenses system will take time. The new rules, and the system of openness and scrutiny that go with them, will play a major part in achieving this goal.'(Venkata Vemuri can be contacted at

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