Ministerial credit cards

February 23rd, 2010 at 5:35 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

At least one Government minister has been forced to pay back expenses wrongly billed to his taxpayer-funded credit card and others are scrambling to check their spending.

Housing Minister will repay Ministerial Services today for the $70 cost of two bottles of wine that he bought for National Party members at AMI Stadium in Christchurch last year and billed to his ministerial credit card.

An embarrassed Mr Heatley admitted, after checking with officials following questions raised by The Dominion Post, that he should never have paid for the wine with his ministerial card.

It suggests officials have been rubberstamping ministerial expenses.

The wine purchase was one of hundreds of transactions by ministers revealed by the release of credit card details in response to an Official Information Act request.

Mr Heatley has also run foul of the rules for running up expenses on his card and later reimbursing Ministerial Services – a practice he acknowledged was against the rules, though he was not aware of that till yesterday.

This is basically unacceptable, no ifs, no buts.

The rules about credit card use are set out in the Ministerial Services handbook. Now yes it is a huge document, but one new Ministers should read upon taking office – and as importantly, one their senior office staff should be aware of.

A Ministerial credit card should be used very sparingly in New Zealand. It is generally on overseas trips that they are needed.

It is a concern that Ministerial Services did not query some of the purchases at time of processing. We’ve seen in the UK what can happen when there is no push back from the authorities on expenses.

I suspect it may have already happened, but the PM needs to remind all Ministers of the need to be like Caesar’s wife when it comes to credit cards and expenses. Otherwise they may share the fate of Pompeia!

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23 Responses to “Ministerial credit cards”

  1. Grendel (873 comments) says:

    i agree with you, but i am left wondering where was the Dom post in the previous 9 years? did the labour govt never spend incorrectly on their credit cards? or was it not worth ruffling the gravy train?

    i suspect that random things slipping through has been happening for years and year through both parties previous govt’s, its human nature i guess. i just find it a little strange that its not a regular occurence for a paper to check expenses regardless of who;s in power.

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  2. Inventory2 (9,788 comments) says:

    Agreed DPF – Heatley should be hauled in front of the PM and given the message in no uncertain terms that he (Heatley) is a pillock who needs to pull his head in. Perception is everything in politics, and the perception in this case is that National ministers are no different from their predecessors – which I HOPE is not the case!

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  3. 3-coil (1,184 comments) says:

    Grendel (7:21am) – the DomPost’s Tracy Watkins and Vernon Small were too busy in the previous 9 years licking Labour politicians’ arses to worry about their credit-card spending.

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  4. tvb (3,941 comments) says:

    If they cannot be trusted to use a Ministerial credit card wisely they should not be a minister. Having all these rules are for children who cannot be trusted – but adults??? Your whole thesis is Ministers cannot be trusted so don’t give them cards or have strict rules regarding their use. That seems to be the attitude of the civil service as well and you as an ex staffer seem to adopt the same line.

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  5. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    What?

    You need a handbook to tell you that you can’t use taxpayers money to shout your mates wine and food?

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  6. David Farrar (1,810 comments) says:

    Gooner: No one is saying that. I have said what happened with the wine for party members is unacceptable full stop. The reference to the handbook was in relation to the issue of can you use it for personal stuff and reimburse, and also the full guidelines as to what you can use it for.

    There are times when charging alcohol to it is appropriate. If you are hosting overseas Ministers for examples. I would even argue that Tim Groser’s meal with Simon Upton is fair enough to charge, as Upton’s experience (and his current OECD job) is directly relevant to Groser’s portfolio.

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  7. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    I’m not having a go at you David. You deserve credit (boom boom) for your impartiality, not just on this issue but quite a few. Something that is not too evident across most blogs.

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  8. Inventory2 (9,788 comments) says:

    Gooner said “I’m not having a go at you David. You deserve credit (boom boom) for your impartiality, not just on this issue but quite a few. Something that is not too evident across most blogs.”

    Gooner – I’m deeply wounded! I have also blogged on this today, independantly of DPF. Although I support the Nats, I have expressed the view that Key should be giving Heatley a right good bollocking over this. I’ve expressed similar sentiments on Adolf’s post at No Minister as well.

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  9. Manolo (12,625 comments) says:

    These neo-socialists troughers (National Party ministers) are as bad as the previous socialist lot (Labour Party ministers). Both teams claim to work for us, but they use their positions to fleece us with taxes and levies, while lining their own pockets.

    If someone like Heatley and others do not have the intelligence to discern what to charge to their credit cards, what can you expect from the rest of their miserable colleagues? By the way, who is their boss and where is he?

    Shame on all these greedy politicians.

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  10. peterwn (2,935 comments) says:

    Oops! I did not see this at the time and posted a comment on ‘General Debate’ about this:

    See:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/3361482/Minister-caught-short-on-credit-card

    “Minister Caught Shirt on Credit Card”

    Actually three Ministers are implicated and their mug-shots adorn the front page of the Dom Post. Looks like Tracy Watkins and Vernon Small will have earned their bonuses this year.

    I consider that this sort of thing is a serious slap in the face for all those who donate and work hard to put themselves and their party’s MP’s into Parliament. The attitude is going to be ‘what the hell’, why bother, etc, etc.

    I think that they and John Key should be considering some sort of appropriate penance they should serve to restore the faith of the sorely tested faithful.

    [my apologies - DPF you may like to delete my same comment from 'General Debate'].

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  11. Chris2 (704 comments) says:

    I think Tim Groser’s credit card charges are more worrisome because on the face of it, he concealed political meetings as being offical meetings, eg:

    $223 for dinner with two “key contacts” at The Wine Room in Wellington. Yesterday he named only National activist Guy Salmon. No detailed invoice was supplied.

    $367.52 in May for a meal at Tomate, Washington, in what was described as a bilateral trade and climate-change-related meeting. Yesterday he revealed it was with recently appointed OECD official and former National MP Simon Upton.

    Groser came from a lengthy senior career in MFAT and I can’t help wondering what financial reimbursement skeletons he left back there when he was a senior Trade Advisor traveling the world.

    One of the Ministers needs to be sacked as an example to others. Heatley would be a good start – the arrogance of the man putting a $9.50 Burger King meal on his Ministerial credit card.

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  12. burt (7,085 comments) says:

    DPF

    You know the only honourable solution here is to have penalties and interest charged against these amounts, starting from the day the spending occurred, using the same formula that tax payers would be punished with for overdue tax.

    It is simply not acceptable that these special above the law people are not punished for use of public money for their own purposes when the punishment for “normal people” is so severe.

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  13. burt (7,085 comments) says:

    DPF

    Or the other option is for National to validate this spending… the opposition would love it because they think it is great to tell the tax payers to get f##ked when they are caught helping themselves to our walets.

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  14. Razork (374 comments) says:

    FFS, is this really the biggest issue facing NZ today?

    STOP PRESS:::: An MP bought some wine and food on a credit card.

    God help us.

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  15. Chris2 (704 comments) says:

    Razork – yes this really is a big issue because it strikes at the heart of our belief that we should be able to rely on our elected representatives doing their job without constantly rorting the system.

    Instead we have Ministers like Heatley on a $233,000 salary, who undoubtably carries cash, a personal EFT-POS card and a personal credit card in his wallet, consciously choosing instead to pull out his tax-payer funded credit card from his wallet to buy a $9.50 hamburger.

    It was this type of behaviour that emboldened the House of Commons MP’s (all parties) to increasing claim for more and more, including one MP getting the taxpayer to pay for the cleaning of his moat.

    So yes Razork this is a big issue, because if it is left unchecked the problem will just get bigger.

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  16. Right of way is Way of Right (1,125 comments) says:

    Caught, reimbursed, apologised, mea culpa and all that.

    Meanwhile, Phillip Feild is still in prison I take it? Glass houses and all that!

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  17. backster (2,000 comments) says:

    At the very least the thief should be required to repay at least five times the amount stolen. It shouldn’t take nosy leftwing journos to reveal this dishonesty there should be some internal auditing…These embarrasments seem likely to occur within the National Executive just as often as with the CLARK predecessors though hopefully without the coverups and corruption so endemic in her regime. The cause is that there are far too many Ministers, ten should be more than enough.

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  18. burt (7,085 comments) says:

    Well I was surprised there was no spending at brothels…..

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  19. john.bt (170 comments) says:

    Considering ex-Dear Leader has recently been in town, I just assumed that she had given Tracey and Vernon a bit of a growling for not doing enough to make the government look bad and this was the best they could come up with at short notice. Rather pathetic on all sides really.

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  20. big bruv (12,355 comments) says:

    Come on guys, I expect to see a lot more abuse hurled at Heatley for this disgusting display of troughing.

    Well done to DPF for putting the boot in but many others would do well to think about how they would have reacted had this been a Labour MP ripping off the tax payer.

    http://clintheine.blogspot.com/2010/02/consistency-please.html

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  21. GJ (329 comments) says:

    Love to check Chris Carters from last term!

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  22. Craig Ranapia (1,912 comments) says:

    A more pragmatic solution would be to do away with ministerial credit cards, and revert to the traditional arrangement of reimbursement based on expense claims with full supporting documentation (a.k.a. fully itemised receipts). If nothing else, folks might be a little more fiscally responsible if they’re got to put their hands in their own pockets first.

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  23. expat (4,048 comments) says:

    Agree with Craig.

    No more cards.

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