Friday, June 8, 2012

Political party State funding, a rich, rewarding gravy train

The scale of funding provided by taxpayers to political parties under the Electoral Acts and the Party Leader’s Allowance legislation, by any benchmark, is so outrageous, absurd, unaffordable and inadequately accounted for that political parties have become equivalent to bloated, featherbedded and State-dependent QUANGOs.

Figures recently published show that taxpayers provided €12.66 million last year to which a further €3.1 million was carried forward from 2010 bringing their spending capacity in 2011, courtesy of taxpayers’, to €15.77 million. They reported spending €11.88 million which means they brought forward €3.8 million to 2012; a 26% increase on the sum carried forward, unspent, from 2010, in an era of severe austerity, great personal sacrifice and massive cutbacks.
To put the scale in context, the British Government provided €8 million in 2011 to Opposition parties who successfully contested the 2010 general election for research support for front-bench spokesmen. The 2010 British general election consisted of a valid poll of 27.1 million votes. Our 2011 general election consisted of 2.2 million 1st preference votes.

Despite the attachment of an auditor’s certificate the accounting for this money is pathetically obscure; devoid of candour and adequate transparency, notwithstanding the proximity of the Standards in Public Office Commission as overseer.

The Standards Commission advise that Fianna Fáil, for example, claimed to spend €28,542 on ‘depreciation’, a non-cash expense. Fine Gael spent €18,657 on ‘donations’. Labour spent €44,666 on ‘international affairs’. Sinn Féin spent €28,700 on its ‘national finance department’. The Green Party, with only 41,000 general election votes and without a single Oireachtas member, managed to spend €341,466 but have still brought forward over €90,000 to 2012. The pair of two-TD parties received so much funding that they are bringing forward almost €93,000 of unspent taxpayers’ money to 2012 leaving the four of them to eke out an existence on the €167,462 in tax-free travel, subsistence and Parliamentary Standard Allowances.

The People Before Profit Alliance spent just €1,000 on ‘pre-Budget research’ but over €7,500 on ‘travel and subsistence’, over and above the €20,000 their TDs collected in travel and subsistence to commute from the adjacent Dublin suburbs last year. The Socialist Party has obliged all taxpayers to pay €4,689 in respect of the production of Socialist Party publications. Independent members [/over] of the Oireachtas pocketed €713,885, free of income tax, without even an auditor’s certificate, or any obligation whatsoever to account for this money. Some of them tell us they donate their allowances to charity.

The Parliamentary Leader’s Allowance, which last year amounted to €7.2 million, is linked to pay increases in the civil service but the legislation does not compel a reduction in line with civil service pay cuts and the radical pruning of the public sector since 2009.

It is noteworthy, in the context of the statutory mandate that 30% of selected candidates in the next general election are to be female, that 1.4% of the €5.4 million provided to seven parties under the Electoral Acts was applied to the promotion of participation of women in political activity.

The foregoing expenditure is separate and distinct from the €6 million received, tax-free, directly by TDs in respect of the Parliamentary Standard Allowance and generous tax-free travel and subsistence allowances, which they receive when they turn up for the 100 days sitting of the Dáil each annum.

Spending last year on political parties is equivalent to an average of €1,311 for each 200 votes received by qualifying parties in the February 2011 general election. Political parties in Great Britain and the North are obliged to provide detailed annual audited accounts since 2003. The average overall subvention for each set of 200 votes won by qualifying parties in the last British general election in 2011 was €37.16, less than 3% of what Irish taxpayers are saddled with.

The ridiculous scale of political party spending in Ireland is also illustrated when the campaign cost of each vote cast, €4.17 in the 2011 general election is compared to the campaign cost of each vote cast in the 2010 British general election, €1.07.

Is there any other facet of the €52 billion in current expenditure that is spent by the Government so out of kilter with economic reality, where loose and ambiguous rules are tolerated and the standard of elementary accountability to stakeholders is so opaque?

How can the Irish Government, reform-minded and responsible for public expenditure, public sector reform and the adequacy of corporate governance standards look voters in the eye while this self-indulgent squandering orgy that is unnecessary and which is taking place directly under their collective nose?

The British political party subvention, incidentally, is restricted to Opposition parties with at least 2 MPs and more than 150,000 votes (0.55% of the national poll). It is based on three elements:

1. General funding of €18,600 per seat + €30,04 for every 200 votes

2. Apportioned travel expenses for Opposition parties subject to an overall limit of €204,000

3. A sum for the running of the Leader of the Opposition’s office

4. Salaries for three post holders: Leader of the Opposition’ Opposition Chief Whip and Assistant Opposition Whip

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