Former Parliamentary Standards watchdog Sir Alistair Graham has said Stormont’s reason for failing to publish the amount of expenses claimed by MLAs in 2021 was “poor”.
It has been revealed that Stormont failed to stick to its own rules on informing the public about the amount of expenses claimed by politicians.
Under current standing orders at the Assembly, details of all expenses and salaries paid to politicians must be made publicly available each year on the Assembly’s website.
However, the rules were not adhered to over the past year.
An Assembly spokesperson told the Sunday Independent the amount of expenses paid to an MLA are usually published four times a year.
The latest figures on its website only go up to December 2020, meaning no details of MLAs’ salaries or expenses claimed during 2021 have yet been made public.
Information on MLA expenses and salaries are expected to be available in the “next few weeks”, stated an Assembly spokesperson.
“MLA salary and expenses information is generally published quarterly, however publication of the information for the final quarter is delayed each year until after the annual audit is complete,” the spokesperson added.
“This publication normally occurs in September or October. Like many other organisations across all parts of society, we have been concentrating our resources on the delivery of services in these challenging times and will publish as soon as possible.”
Sir Alistair, who spent three years chairing the Parades Commission, said the Assembly’s excuse was “poor” as it is “relatively straightforward” to publish expenses information, even with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s central to transparency in politics that they should do so,” he stated.
“It’s central to the politicians’ accountability to the public. They should be able to see what their expenses are and whether they have complied to the rules.”
MLAs are currently paid a salary of £51,000 a year. This has risen from £49,000 in 2016.
Those politicians who sit on the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission — which ensures the Assembly is provided with the property, staff and services required to carry out its work — are paid £57,000 a year.
First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill both receive an annual salary of £123,000.
Other ministers within the Northern Ireland Executive are paid £89,000 a year, while junior ministers receive a salary of £57,000.
The Speaker of the Assembly, Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey, is paid £89,000 a year, while MLAs who take on the chairperson role within any of the Stormont committees receive a salary of £63,000 per annum.
They can claim up to £80,000 a year to cover staff salaries and an unlimited amount of money to help with other staff-related costs.
In addition, they can claim up to £8,500 each year for the cost of renting an office and a further £7,000 a year to cover costs incorporated in running their offices.
MLAs are also able to claim for travel expenses which they incur both as a result of their constituency work and in travelling to Stormont.
They must attend 72 days or more at Parliament Buildings to receive the full amount of the travel allowance available.
The last year for which the full figures are available for salaries and expenses paid to Stormont MLAs was the 2019/2020 financial year.
During that year, MLAs were paid a total of £3,683,250.13 in wages and claimed a total of £5,735,833.52 in expenses and allowances.