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Use of parliamentary travel entitlements by Mr and Mrs Wong

Inquiry into the use of parliamentary travel entitlements by Mr and Mrs Wong

[Full report: http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1109/useofparliamentarytravelentitlements.pdf]

Auditor-General’s overview

Inquiry into the use of parliamentary travel entitlements by Mr and Mrs Wong.

This report sets out our conclusions on our inquiry into the use of parliamentary travel entitlements by Mr and Mrs Wong, while Mrs Wong was a member of Parliament (MP).

In late 2010, the Parliamentary Service investigated this issue and concluded that there had been an element of private business activity on one leg of a trip to China, for which a parliamentary rebate had been claimed. Mrs Wong repaid the relevant portion of the rebate and resigned from Parliament. The Speaker abolished the travel entitlement under which a rebate was paid for private international travel by an MP and their spouse.

However, in early 2011 a member of the public came forward with information that appeared to contradict some of the conclusions reached in the earlier investigation. We therefore carried out our own inquiry to determine whether public funds had been used inappropriately.

Our investigation did not reveal any pattern of wrongdoing by Mr or Mrs Wong, or of extensive business activity linked with overseas travel. While Mrs Wong was an MP, Mr Wong’s primary role has been to support his wife in her political career. His personal business activity over the years has been limited.

From the evidence we have been able to gather, we have concluded that the parliamentary travel entitlements were appropriately claimed during Mrs Wong’s years in Parliament in all but two instances:

• for the December 2008 trip to China (trip H) discussed above. The parliamentary rebate was paid for most of the trip, but Mr and Mrs Wong repaid the cost for the side trip to Lianyungang ($237.20 each); and

• Mr Wong’s June 2008 trip to Lianyungang (trip G) was for private business purposes and the rebate of $1,520.25 should not have been claimed. We recommend that the Parliamentary Service consider what steps it needs to take to correct this situation.

In my view, the experience of Mr and Mrs Wong highlights the problems inherent in the current system that mixes remuneration and business expenses for MPs. The parliamentary travel entitlements are regarded as serving both purposes. This creates complexity and risk for all those dealing with these systems, including the administrators and MPs and their families. My Office has highlighted these problems repeatedly during the last 10 years. The Government has announced that it is preparing legislation to address these problems. I look forward to the introduction of a Bill so that public debate can begin on the shape of a new system.

I would like to acknowledge Mr and Mrs Wong’s full co-operation with this inquiry.

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

[Full report: http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1109/useofparliamentarytravelentitlements.pdf]

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