Chris believes report recommending return of unused per diem ‘biased’

Chris believes report recommending  return of unused per diem ‘biased’

MP Christophe Emmanuel


PHILIPSBURG--Nation Opportunity Wealth (NOW) Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel says the General Audit Chamber report which recommended that ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs) return unused per diem (daily allowance) is biased.

    “Don’t just paint the Parliament and the ministers as the bad crop when everything we do concerning government monies is regulated,” said Emmanuel.

    He made the remarks during an interview with Lady Grace on PJD2 radio on Thursday. For the report in question, the General Audit Chamber evaluated the efficiency, effectiveness and compliance of travel-related activities to ensure that public funds are used in a responsible and transparent manner.

    When asked about the report by the interviewer, Emmanuel said: “Per diem and travel money is … guided by a national ordinance – a law. That dictates how that is done. So, it’s not just money given to you and you just do what you want with it and you must take this money out of the sky, because when you listen to the gentleman from the Audit Chamber, the narrative that was painted is that you are given this free will money … No. It is given based on a national ordinance [that dictates – Ed.] how it should be done and the reason why it should be done because, for example, when we travel to [the Latin American Parliament] Parlatino and we travel to The Hague, you pay your own hotel, you pay your own travel, you pay out of your own pocket from this per diem. You pay for your own food. The only thing that you get from government is the plane ticket and the per diem a day, but everything else comes out from that money that you have to pay for,” explained Emmanuel.

    He believes the report was not impartial. “So, when I listened to it I was sort of taken aback, because I think it’s a biased report based on his political affiliations and the ones who’s within his circle, who have always been advocating why these things should not happen.”

    A summary of the audit on travel-related activities was first released in a press release issued by the General Audit Chamber last year. Secretary General Keith de Jong alluded to the audit in his remarks during a press conference held on Monday. He said the audit revealed that there is no accountability on how the per diem is spent by ministers and MPs, who are currently entitled to a US $400 per diem, which includes hotel costs, meals and incidentals. It was recommended that accountability for the per diem be required and that any per diem amount left unspent be returned as it is taxpayers’ money.

    The audit also found that MPs and ministers are entitled to travel first class and anyone travelling with ministers and MPs are granted the same provisions. “During our audit, we identified that there are no reporting requirements for MPs or ministers, so it’s very difficult for us to determine the value of money. We recommended the following – make economy class the standard except for justifiable cases and based on, let’s say, amended legislation or policy with business class as the highest class. We find that economy class should be the base,” De Jong had said at the press conference.

    Emmanuel took issue with the recommendation to travel in economy class. “So, the good gentleman is saying that the prime minister of this country should travel economy? I have a serious problem with that … The highest individuals, representatives in this country should travel economy?”

    The MP stressed that these matters are regulated. “It’s not the MPs [who] decided to do that on their own. It is regulated that this is how they travel. That’s how it is. We didn’t just guess or just say I just want to travel business class all the time and that’s how it is. You can choose not to do it … as well. You can do that. What I’m am saying is when I read the newspaper and I read the report, I shook my head and I say it was painted in a way to sort of give the impression to the people that it’s a bad thing; and I’m saying to myself fine, but have you looked into the Integrity Chamber and the spending of their travel to do two reports – and it is almost identical to the travel budget of Parliament, over NAf. 400,000, but here you have 15 MPs. But what do you have there? Six people, but their travel budget is the same. Where are they travelling for? Where?” asked Emmanuel.

    The Audit Chamber also recommended pre- and post-travel reporting for ministers and MPs similar to civil servants to promote transparency, accountability and effectiveness. Emmanuel said he agrees with the latter. “So, the question is should … MPs come back and give a report on what was discussed? Yes. I agreed with all of that and these are the things that this new government is working on. We have put that in place with a committee: that we are going to give a report on what was said, what was done, what can be proposed and all those sorts of discussions,” stated the MP.

    The NOW leader also took issue with the General Audit Chamber’s suggestion that Parliament considers discontinuing its participation in Parlatino and explore other regional and more cost-efficient options.

    “The problem I have with the report is it was biased and you didn’t look at what can come out from it from being good. You just think that it shouldn’t be done, but your reasons why it should not be done, I don’t agree with it,” stated Emmanuel.

    “When the [Caribbean Body for Reform and Development] COHO law that the Dutch government wanted to shove down our throats, it was Parlatino and Parliament that sent a report and said this is not democratic. You cannot do this. The first country and nation that reached out to us after the hurricane, we didn’t take their assistance, we didn’t go along with it, was Parlatino,” noted the MP.

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