Individuals make the news when they are caught fiddling their expense accounts. While the person becomes the focus of the story, it is as much about the process of claiming expenses. Many occupations reimburse employees for expenses such as travel, meals and accommodation as well as for other expenditures associated with their employers’ businesses. There are several problems with this practice such as knowing what is a legitimate expense, submitting a claim and ensuring the cost is accurate.
Three Canadian senators have recently been required to reimburse funds resulting from improper and excessive claims. What needs to be asked is why the Senate administration did not have in place a procedure for monitoring the claims made and reimbursed. The failure reflects not only the behavior of the Senators but of the institution which allowed this practice to prevail. Senators have been claiming expenses for years and it stretches credulity to think that all previous wrongful claims were detected and punished. In fact since the recent publicity the total expenses claimed by Senators has fallen, in some cases considerably.
It is surprising that journalists and other researchers have not detected problems sooner. In the Senate’s case a website has posted the monthly expenses of Senators at least since Sept.1, 2010 at http://sen.parl.gc.ca/senproactivedisclosure/SenatorExpense.aspx?dateRange=2013-06-01%20/%202013-08-31&language=E
The website states:
“The Canadian Senate has rules and limits to govern what expenditures can be reimbursed, and a vigorous process that ensures that only legitimate and reasonable expenses are paid. All claims for goods and services must be supported by receipts and allowances that are consistent with the Senate Administrative Rules, policies and guidelines. Any expenses that are not covered by the Senate Administrative Rules or not authorized by policies and guidelines must be paid by the senators themselves.”
This “vigorous process” failed not just once but over a number of years. The Senate Administrative Rules were there in theory but not in practice, and those ultimately responsible for overseeing the rules, both the appointed Senators and the administrative staff, were delinquent in their enforcement.