Sorry, but not so sorry

by Roopinder Singh

The British Houses of Parliament, London
Image via Wikipedia

The principles of Westminster system, the democratic parliamentary system that we adopted, modelled after the British government, help us govern the largest democracy in the world. Now that we have finished the gigantic task of electing worthies who will represent us in the national capital, we must look beyond our shores, as we often do for inspiration.

The Palace of Westminster is the seat of Parliament of the United Kingdom and, practically, all former British colonies, with the notable exception of the United States of America, have adopted the legislative model used in Westminster.

While India has adopted the British system, there are differences, and one that has occupied headlines in the UK recently is that the British MPs can, and do, claim expenses for a second home, outside their constituency, in London.

Ever since the British paper, The Daily Telegraph, published expenses claims made by senior British MPs under the controversial Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure for MPs or second homes allowance, what Freedom of Information activists long held, became obvious-that this is an expense most open to abuse.

Media exposure of glaring cases — like claiming the cost of cleaning a moat, fitting chandeliers and in another case, jacuzzi-style bath — stunned taxpayers, as they learnt exactly what they were subsidising with their hard-earned money.

We must keep in mind that historically, all over the world, more tax is paid by those who do not have homes with moats or chandeliered hallways where their visitors might wait while the butler announces them, or retire to the rest room for a jacuzzi bath. These are blue or white collared workers struggling to pay bills as they balance various aspects of their lives. For them, this extravagance is a bitter pill to swallow, indeed.

Not that all MPs were extravagant in their purchases: They even billed for routine things like an ice tray for £1.50, and to top it all, a chocolate Santa, for 59p! Hey, a guy’s got a right to a snack. Others were billing the British taxpayers as much as £18,800 over four years in “unreceipted” expenses for food consumed at the designated second home!

Now that they have been exposed, the honourable members are not terribly contrite, they are sorry, but not so sorry as to resign from their positions following public outcry at their extravagances. They have actually found the scapegoat — the House of Commons Speaker, Michael Martin, who has announced his resignation for failing to handle the crisis of confidence that followed the evisceration of the expense accounts scandal.

Considered the first person from a working-class background to sit on the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons, Martin presided over a house that for a long, long time held allowances as a supplementary salary, and receipts as notional, because they were anyways secret.

Now that they had been “outed”, the MPs bayed for blood, and punished their leader. Yet, even after they elect a new Speaker, they will have to reform the system, or be seen to be on the wrong side of fair play, which would definitely lead to the loss of public support. The Honorable Members can still have their chandeliers; clean their moats or have jacuzzis installed, provided they pay for them, like the rest of us.

This middle was published on the editorial page of The Tribune on May 22, 2009.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]