In the news today we are told that Alan Shatter claimed €12 for passport photos on his expenses and also for injections he had to take before travelling. Now, let’s be honest here this isn’t the biggest news in the world. Nor will the country be facing ruination over the claim. It is far from the worst thing any politician has done. It does, however, raise the issue of expenses again. There will be a rush of people to slam the expenses system and use this as another example of why we should just stop paying politicians altogether or make them survive on dry black bread and sugarless tea. I am not going to join those ranks anytime soon. The problem is though that these ‘own goals’ by politicians are really disappointing.
There is no doubt in my mind that if we were to go through every expenses claim with a fine tooth comb we would find all manner of ridiculous claims. Expenses are legitimate but the use of them by some politicians makes a farce of the system. There is a cultural problem within the walls of Leinster House. That problem exists because too many believe that if they can claim they should claim. Leinster House is not alone in this. Over many years in business I have witnessed it too. There are people who are well paid and they shrug when they have to hand out a few euro and let it go. There are others who carefully record every cent that is spent in case they might be able to claim it back. Some people view a company’s success as integral to their own. They see their salary as a mark of the company success and while they claim expenses they are not on the prowl to try making money out of them. There are others who see expenses as a salary supplement. It is something they need to claim to ensure that nobody is doing better than them. ‘Why should I be out of pocket?’.
Too many politicians fail to stop and give a little thought before submitting a claim. They need to ask themselves 3 simple questions. Is it legitimate? Is it necessary? And Would I be much worse off if I didn’t bother? The point being that politicians cannot treat expenses just like a company fund. Politics does not turn a profit. Politics is meant to be a little about service. Leadership demands people make some sacrifices even in the best of times and politicians have to show some example. If there is any doubt as to the legitimacy of a claim then it’s simple, don’t claim it. Expenses are there to ensure a level playing field between TDs. A rich TD can buy all the services s/he wants. A poorer TD might not be able to compete. Expenses are there to ensure that the work that is necessary is not omitted because of a lack of resources. Work beyond this is probably superfluous and just a waste. However just because you can claim for something doesn’t mean you should. Oireachtas members need to ask if it is necessary for their work, does it benefit them and can they show this? Finally our TDs and Senators are well paid. I happen to think that’s a good thing. However, when you are well paid you can afford to take the odd hit. In fact you are expected to by the public. Members need to ask themselves if it’s really going to break the bank to cover something from their own pocket. If not then don’t claim.
We need to avoid silly petty claims that just make politicians look like greedy grab all merchants. There are many people struggling out there. That might be hard for some to believe but behind all the very good economic indicators many are still in trouble. Even if you believe in trickledown economics you need to know that it takes years before the figures make any difference to most people. A quick tax reduction does not really make much more difference that a few weeks shopping even to a working family at best. For most it won’t even cover a mortgage repayment. This is why a better example is needed. When you are well paid you need to show that you appreciate that position and how fortunate you are. Too many believe the hype that those in well paid positions are their solely because of their own genius and everyone else is somehow lazier or less competent.
After all the examples we have had one would have thought that politicians would learn but it seems a sense of entitlement still hangs around too many. If they care about the system then they are going to have to change or change will have them.