The cash value of improperly claimed expenses appears to be quite modest. The amount returned so far by the MPs on improper expense claims as related by this NYT report—$500,000 from 50 MPs, incurred between 2004-2008 as far as I can gather from the lists at the Daily Telegraph MPs’ expenses portal—averages out to about $10,000 per MP, that is, $2,000 per year, or $167 per month. (That’s peanuts compared to the Y5,000,000 that Toshikatsu Matsuoka claimed in 2005 alone for alkali ion water and other unmentionables at his tiny two-room office provided by the Diet. Hint: it does not have a sink.) Yet the British public is furious, offending MPs are being forced to retire, and incumbents are expected to suffer across the board in the upcoming general election.
But that’s not all. A cursory look at the lists of PMs at the Telegraph portal shows that Labor Party MPs had been no more complicit than their Tory counterparts. Bu the Labor Party has fallen behind the
So what went wrong?
It takes no leap of the imagination to see that the issue was magnified beyond anything its numbers—the MPs and the money—would have warranted if those MPs and their protective colleagues had not pursued every legal and political means available in what turned out to be a futile, five-year bid to avoid disclosure. In the process, they also forfeited any excuse that that their expense claims had been made in good faith, if poor judgment. The global economic crisis and the hardships that it has caused, unfolding just as the parliamentary turmoil lurched through its end game, merely provided an unsightly backdrop to the spectacle of MPs feeding from the public trough. The entire political class had been dealt a blow.
Turning to the Labor Party, once the dam broke, the Prime Minister tried to wave it off as a trifle. This turned out to be a big mistake. David Cameron as leader of the Tories managed to get ahead of the curve, forcing the offenders to step down when the general election comes around. Although the Prime Minister soon followed suit, it was too late; he’d lost the race when the hungry bear came charging.
So, misunderestimate the problem and hope it will blow away, protecting your friends until they’re beyond salvation: That’s a scenario that has been played out too many times over in Japanese politics, not least by Prime Minister Aso and his two immediate predecessors as they dithered over political crises precipitated by wayward cabinet ministers and sub-cabinet appointees. And you know how they’ve turned out**.
* For those of you who want a quick overview of the whole affair, there’s this Wikipedia entry.
** To be fair, even Prime Minister Koizumi had his share of mishaps. He almost allowed Makiko Tanaka threatened to ruin his administration almost as soon as it had gotten underway by letting the woefully unprepared Foreign Minister to run amok. In his defense, Tanaka had much of the public behind her in her feud with the MOFA diplomats.