Calling govt to task on spending

Tuesday October 17, 2017 Written by Published in Opinion

Often announcements by the government are met with scepticism.

 

Questions are asked and responses made, but in general, people usually don’t bother to delve any further into matters unless, of course, they are interested in government decisions and how they impact on our people.

Perhaps what people fail to understand is that they are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of government decisions. That’s why I wanted to write about it and I hope everyone feels better informed after reading this column.

I am particularly interested in whether government is telling us the truth about just how much of our money they spend legally and appropriately.

Recently I was able to peruse a government document outlining and detailing government expenditure which is separate from that appropriated by the government in Parliament in the 2016-2017 annual budget.

This is money being spent with little scrutiny and justification or entitlement. The beneficiaries are those members of the public that the government feel deserve financial assistance, but with very due diligence. In other words, the beneficiaries are selected because they are owed some political favour or their political patronage was being sought. Well, certainly that would be how a Member of Parliament on the opposition benches would see it.

I will not be naming any particular person or institution in this instance unless it is necessary for me to illustrate a point.

There are essentially two ways that government can legitimately be authorised to spend money. First, through the Appropriation Bill, which is the annual amount of money budgeted for by the government for each year. It is put before parliament for debate and passage. Secondly, expenditure is authorised through what is known as the Executive Council, which is really the Cabinet of government ministers but this time with the inclusion of the Queen’s Representative (QR).

This is done apparently on quite a regular basis and is used to make funds available without having to plan them ahead for approval in parliament when the Appropriation Bill is being planned and formulated.

In one way, the Executive Council meeting with the QR to approve funding for this and that is asking for questions to be asked and at the same time compelling the government to be transparent about it.

These decisions are, of course, recorded and included into reports for Parliament and for public scrutiny. But is the government sensitive to the fact that when they convene the Executive Council and the QR to spend money, there is a sense of it being unchecked?

The Executive can convene for other purposes, such as the approval of regulations and the Her Majesty the Queen’s endorsement of legislation passed by parliament. The question is, who is to stop them from setting an amount and giving to any organisation they favour to gain political favour?

At that point in time they have the authority to do so. My argument is that they should have a sense of responsibility, a sense of accountability to the public or even an ethical prescription to the fact that these are public funds and should not be abused.

For example, top-ups to the travel budget of the QR to go to overseas functions or to the island of Pukapuka to present a Queen’s award to someone. It seems unnecessary and a waste of over $40,000 of public funds to hire Air Rarotonga’s jet aircraft to fly to Pukapuka just for that one ceremony. Where’s the prudence here? What about the conflict for the QR, who was involved in the approval process? Of course this money was not factored in the Appropriation Bill of 2016-2017.

What about the spending of over a $100,000 to fund a private court case? By using the word “private”, I am referring to the fact that the case was initiated and brought by an individual against the Cook Islands Police Service and the Ministry of Justice over claims that both had abused their powers in dealing with the man.

In the end I understand the case was dismissed, but the cost to the public, which was approved by the Executive Council was as I have stated. There are many more instances of this kind of inexplicable expenditure by the government, and it has got to the point where it seems extremely excessive and may even exceed the level the law allows.

More information about this will be released later, but in the meantime, the public ought to be aware that this is going on and points to the possible way the government will fund its re-election campaign.

Clever they may be, but the fact of the matter is that it is the public that must rise to stop this sort of abuse of taxpayers’ funds. 

- Wilkie Rasmussen

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