Making frisbees and calendars with taxpayer money: tight hold needed on public purse

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 August, 2015, 1:27am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 August, 2015, 1:27am

Ensuring public money is well spent is one of the constitutional roles of legislators. This does not just cover government expenditure; but also the money lawmakers are entitled to spend themselves. While there are clear rules on the former, guidelines on the latter are less stringent. Questionable spending by individual lawmakers is not uncommon.

A regular check on lawmakers' records revealed an array of expenses and reimbursement, some of which have raised eyebrows. Take the giveaway souvenirs made with taxpayer's money as an example. The DAB's Gary Chan Hak-kan dished out 14,000 plastic frisbees with his caricature on it, costing taxpayers HK$109,200. His party colleague Ben Chan Han-pan spent HK$70,000 on calendars for local residents. Claudia Mo Man-ching of the Civic Party claimed more than HK$7,000 for a power generator and a tent she bought last October; but she said they were for street activities rather than Occupy protests.

The expenditure may look trivial to some people. But since each of the 70 lawmakers can claim up to an annual HK$2.32 million in office operation expenses, the room for misspending cannot be ignored. This is not helped by the loose guidelines in place, which allow members to claim expenses in connection with their duties. As a political analyst has rightly pointed out, some freebies serve nothing other than promoting the lawmakers' image. It has to wonder whether there are better ways to connect with the constituents.

There have been suggestions that lawmakers' assistants deserve a better pay package, saying they are not as well paid as civil servants. But unlike the civil-service system where salaries are tied to seniority and years of experience, there appears to be no benchmarks for assistants' salaries. If members are truly concerned with the well being of their staff, they should perhaps scale back on unnecessary expenditure and better reward performing aides. Our lawmakers cannot claim to be true guardian of public purse unless they extend the same diligence and care on government spending to their own.