Independent Media Centre Ireland

Tax-Free Payments to Councillors Should End Now: Expenses & Reimbursement System Needs Overhauling

category dublin | politics / elections | feature author Saturday May 30, 2009 20:34author by Erik Eblana

Erik Eblana is an Independent Candidate for the Pembroke-Rathmines constituency in the forthcoming Dublin City Council elections on June 5th 2009

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Erik Eblana: "Tax-Free Payments to Councillors Should End Now"

Independent candidate Erik Eblana, has called for a complete overhaul of the system of payments to councillors. Mr Eblana, from the Pembroke-Rathmines ward, also stated that any review must be done by an independent body, not including councillors or the council itself.

‘Appearances and transparency are critical when it comes to spending public money and getting best value for all expenditure incurred including over €400,000 on expenses alone for the 52 councillors on Dublin City Council, ’ Mr Eblana said.

‘In my view, as an outsider to the current political consensus, I would abolish the attendance payments to councillors for example. This is a tax free payment of €8406 paid for attending city council meetings in addition to the €17,604 salary and other expenses.

‘This is just wrong. As a councillor you are supposed to attend meetings. It’s your job! And if you can’t attend them or need a lure to get you there well then I’d question why you would go for the job of councillor in the first place.

‘People commute every day into work and they don’t get their LUAS or bus fares paid for by their employer. So why should councillors?

‘It is a privilege and honour to represent your community and the city. A sensible approach would be to have a flat salary for councillors, equitable to similar roles in the public and private sector’

Mr. Eblana went to say that ‘sanctions could be invoked if councillors did not attend to their duties or meetings.

‘Let’s look to the real world again - most people who work in Dublin get paid at the end of the month for attending work. If you don’t go to work you don’t get paid. I don’t see why councillors should be treated any differently than every other worker in this city. The system must be fair, open, transparent and real.

‘In 2008 a total of €400,000 was spent by the 52 councillors on subsistence and travel expenses. This is in addition to salary and meeting attendance allowances. The highest claims made for 2008 on Dublin City Council include Cllr Councillor Liam Kelly (FF) who claimed €10,480 in travel, subsistence and telephone expenses , Cllr Mary Freehill (Lab) €8,391 and Cllr Dermot Lacey (Lab) €3,186.

'In correspondence Councillor Dermot Lacey told me that he considered the amount he received 'derisory'. This is I believe objectionable. €3000 is a lot of taxpayers money and needs to be fully accounted for and seen to be so.

'I'm an unemployed man who is applying to the people of Dublin for the job of councillor and I know that €3000 is a lot of money. Also, as volunteer Assistant Director of the Rathmines Festival, we have incurred a deficit in this years festival and the city councils sponsorship is being reduced in 2010. That €3000 would go a long, long way in ensuring we can put on a festival next year.

‘If a councillor attends conferences or seminars and then rightly claims expenses there should be a mechanism to show how such an expense has benefitted the city. Is attending a conference in San Jose, really going to help in the management of Dublin city? Are there not programmes and initiatives in the city itself where the money would be better spent.’

‘Furthermore, a breakdown of these totals is not published on any of the candidates’ websites or on the DCC website, so the system is quit untransparent in my view. It can only help councillors if they were more open about this. Publishing how they have personally spent every cent from the public purse will go a long way in shoring up confidence in the political establishment.

‘As politicians they have a duty to restore confidence. Therefore I am calling on all councillors to publish their expenses and prove they really do believe in open government. After all, it is taxpayers money we are talking about and all expenditure should be open for scrutiny. Are they defenders of the status quo or champions for genuine change?

‘They key question here is has value for money been achieved? What are the benefits to the community and the city as a whole from councillors attending these junkets. There should be some sort of mechanism to measure how useful they are before the money is spent. This is a common sense and fair way in allocating taxpayer’s money.

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