Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 7 October 2015

We urge Robinson to act on office controversies

Published 02/04/2008

Finance Minister Peter Robinson has been urged to intervene on the constituency office controversies that have been plaguing the Assembly.

The call has come from the Belfast Telegraph, as part of our new 'Open Stormont' campaign to promote transparency and accountability in Northern Ireland's corridors of power.

This campaign's five proposals include independent valuations for MLA office rental expenses - where they have been claiming for premises owned by relatives or their parties.

Mr Robinson has the power to commission such valuations, through an agency of his Finance Department called Land and Property Services.

The Belfast Telegraph has written to the Minister personally to ask him to address the issue.

The letter stated: "We are not suggesting that current claims in these categories are excessive or out of line with market values, merely that taxpayers are entitled to reassurance from an independent source.

"The Land and Property Services agency is the ideal vehicle in these circumstances.

"At present, it seems the only mechanism for requesting an independent assessment of rental claims is through a complaint to the Assembly Standards and Privileges Committee.

"That is an unwieldy and excessive route and would immediately imply that the claims are not appropriate."

A spokesman for the Department said: "The Minister has received the Belfast Telegraph letter and will reply shortly."

The Assembly has been hit by a number of expenses-related controversies in recent months, which have highlighted disparities between rules at Stormont and Westminster.

A range of leading political figures are being contacted as part of the 'Open Stormont' campaign, including Ministers and party leaders. The five points of the campaign are:

  • A review of the Assembly's approach to publishing MLA pay and expenses, with particular reference to the much more detailed disclosures pioneered by the Scottish Parliament.
  • MLAs to be required to publicly declare in the register of interests details of family members on their payroll. This reform has been endorsed by the Assembly's Standards Committee, but there are concerns that it will not take effect until 2009.
  • A review on constituency office rental arrangements, with independent valuations on offices rented from family members and political parties.
  • A pledge from all the Stormont parties that the secrecy surrounding their donations will finally end in 2010, with no further slippage.
  • A commitment from all the Stormont parties that there will be no dilution of the Freedom of Information Act.

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