The UK Parliamentary Expenses Scandal: a case study for the Philippines

The amount involved seems paltry compared to the currently alleged billions and billions scammed off Filipinos’ taxes by Senators and Congressmen and women and other public officials through the pork barrel system but the UK Government handled the case seriously through the standard process and prosecuted those found guilty.  The Philippine Government should too no matter the difficulty or enormity of the problem it is faced with in this expose.  Even developed countries’ governments are not exempt from fraudulent and corrupt acts by its members but the redeeming feature there is there was process, there is rule of law, those found guilty were convicted, assets lost were recovered (the guilty were asked to return what they have stolen).

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The United Kingdom parliamentary expenses scandal was a major political scandal triggered by the leak and subsequent publication by the Telegraph Group in 2009 of expense claims made by members of the United Kingdom Parliament over several years. Public outrage was caused by disclosure of widespread actual and alleged misuse of the permitted allowances and expenses claimed by Members of Parliament (MPs), following failed attempts by parliament to prevent disclosure under Freedom of Information legislation. The scandal aroused widespread anger among the UK public against MPs and a loss of confidence in politics. It resulted in a large number of resignations, sackings, de-selections and retirement announcements, together with public apologies and the repayment of expenses. Several members or former members of the House of Commons, and members of the House of Lords, were prosecuted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. The scandal also created pressure for political reform extending well beyond the issue of expenses and led to the Parliament elected in 2005 being referred to as the ‘Rotten Parliament’.

In the United Kingdom MPs can claim expenses, including the cost of accommodation, “wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the performance of a Member’s parliamentary duties”.  A February 2008 Freedom of Information Act request for the release of details of MPs’ expenses claims was allowed by an Information Tribunal. The House of Commons Authorities challenged the decision on the grounds that it was “unlawfully intrusive”. In May 2008, the High Court (England and Wales) ruled in favour of releasing the details of MPs’ expenses claims.  In April 2009 the House of Commons authorities announced that publication of expenses, with certain information deemed “sensitive” removed, would be made in July 2009.

However before this could take place, a full uncensored copy of the expenses records and documentation was leaked to the Daily Telegraph, which began publishing details in daily installments from 8 May 2009. These disclosures dominated the British media for weeks, with the findings being considered to show flagrant and sometimes gross misuse of the expenses system for personal gain by many MPs (including Government and shadow cabinet ministers) across all parties.

On 18 June 2009 the details of all MPs’ expenses and allowance claims that were approved during the period 2004 to 2008 were published on the official Parliament website. However items of detail such as addresses were redacted, and the publication excluded claims that were not approved for payment by the Commons authorities as well as any correspondence between MPs and the parliamentary fees office. These omissions resulted in further accusations of unnecessary secrecy, and widespread assertions that the most serious abuses would not have come to light had the censored documentation been the only information available. Details of voluntary repayments by MPs amounting to almost £500,000 were also officially published.

A panel was established to investigate all claims relating to the second homes allowance between 2004 and 2008. Headed by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg, the panel published its findings on 12 October as MPs returned to Westminster following the summer recess. Each MP received a letter stating whether or not he or she would be required to repay any expenses claimed.

It was announced on 5 February 2010 that criminal charges would be prosecuted against Labour MPs Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine, and Conservative peer Lord Hanningfield in relation to false accounting. On 11 March all four announced they would plead not guilty to charges of false accounting. Potential cases against other unnamed MPs and Lords are still being considered by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service as of December 2010.

The Crown Prosecution Service announced on 19 May 2010 that Labour MP Eric Illsley would be charged with three counts of false accounting; he was also suspended from the Labour Party.  Lord Taylor of Warwick, a Conservative peer, had also been charged with six counts of false accounting. On 13 October 2010 it was announced that former Labour MP Margaret Moran would also be charged with false accounting, while on 14 October 2010 former Minister of State for Europe and Labour MP Denis MacShane was referred to the Police following a complaint from the British National Party, as a consequence of which he was also suspended from the Labour Party.

Three Labour Peers were suspended on 18 October 2010 due to their expenses claims: Lord Bhatia was suspended from the House of Lords for eight months and told to repay £27,446; Lord Paul suspended from the House of Lords for four months and ordered to pay back £41,982 and Baroness Uddin faces a police investigation for alleged fraud for claiming at least £180,000 in expenses by designating an empty flat, and previously an allegedly non existent property as her main residence. She was suspended from the House of Lords until the end of 2012 and required to repay £125,349.

Read more at Wikipedia.

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