14 October 2013

In a number of jurisdictions, and particularly the United States, “public service” is a generic term used to refer to all officials. Media reports of public service corruption often relate to misbehaving politicians. Throughout the United States, politicians seem to be a fruitful source of stories for failing to meet the standards they expect of others.

Because a national Public Service was created as a statutory institution in both Australia and New Zealand more than a hundred years age, it is uncommon for politicians to be described as being in “public service” .  Our media readily distinguish politicians and agency staff, a distinction simplified because there are no political appointees in the Public Service ( not that there is much awareness of how the Public Service differs from the State Services, the State Sector or the Public Sector. )

Over the last ten days it has been Australian politicians who have been in the spotlight.  Commonwealth MPs seem to be bumping up against their integrity obligations. The Prime Minister has been entangled in a brouhaha about MPs charging personal expenses as if incurred in the course of public business.

The Prime Minister and other prominent MPs are repaying money for faulty expense claims, charged as if personal travel were for political purposes. He sought a refund for participation costs at an ironman race and claimed more than $23,000 for travel, including taking his wife and a daughter to the Melbourne Cup. None of which fits within the prescription of  ”official business”.

Inappropriate claims in Australia don’t seem to have yet reached the level that brought about an inquiry in Britain into MPs’ expenses claims,  but convenient international travel, and costs of attendance at weddings and sports events are apparently widespread among the activities MPs feel should be paid for from public funds.  No MP in the Australian Parliament receives less than $500,000 a year in salary, expenses, allowances and perks according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

But the scale of these incidents is minor when compared with a report about the former head of Russia’s Ministry of Defence property management administration. A political appointee and close friend of the Defence Minister sacked last year for facilitating fraudulent sales of more than $60m worth of military assets, she has been charged with fraud, money laundering and misuse of office. When arrested, cash and jewellery valued at more than $3.9 m were taken from her luxury flat.  She is aged 33.

TheDominion Post report includes a comment that this case is small fry in the kleptocracy of today’s Russia.