Cyprus Mail

Payment of party assistants in House ‘not adequately justified’

Raising the amount of money given to political parties from the parliament’s budget to €10.4m last year, a more than 50 per cent raise compared to 2015, has yet to be justified adequately and is not in line with the current financial conditions in the country, the report of the Audit Office on the House released on Friday said.

The budget for the state grant to political parties was increased by €3.5m last year, meaning by 52 per cent more compared to 2015, the report said.

It also said that the number of parliamentary associates of MPs has risen from 69 in 2015 to 101 a year later, thus raising the parliament’s budget by around €1m. Of the €10.4m budget for the funding of political parties, €3.7m was earmarked for the salaries of parliamentary associates.

The Audit Office recalled a 2016 ruling by the Auditor-general saying that the salary of these parliamentary associates should come from their employers, the political parties, and not from the budget of parliament as the whole procedure followed by the House has no legal backing.

The AG said in his ruling that the parliament’s budget should not include the services of parliamentary associates since “they do not concern the House of Representatives.”

The Audit Office said that the House “has no choice but to promptly comply” with the ruling of the AG.

State funding to political parties and the way in which it is distributed is governed by the law on political parties, the report said, and there is no special provision or reference to sponsorship for remuneration of parliamentary associates. “However, in the budget of the House of Representatives, in the article ‘Sponsorship of political parties’ a specific amount is allocated to parliamentary assistants.”

The issue of parliamentary associates is a controversial one as it was made known in the past that some MPs had hired relatives for the job.

“We suggested that the services of the House, in cooperation with the finance ministry and the parliamentary parties, carry out a study on the subject, so that its regulation in the future is not based on circumstantial but objective data and criteria,” the report said.

If this does not happen, it said, if in the future a party wins more seats in the House, there is a risk of an increase in the numbers of parliamentary assistants.

The report also suggested an amendment to the law on political parties so that their funding to cover the expenses related to parliamentary associates is done “in a legal and transparent manner.”

As regards conferences, seminars and missions abroad, there has been a gradual rise in expenses over the past four years, “with the possibility reasonably arising that the drafting of the budget might not be made on a rational basis.” In 2014 around €500,000 was spent for those purposes with the figure rising to around €720,000 last year, the report said.

This raise is due to increase in the number of missions abroad but also in number of participants.

The report also said that on many occasions the accounts department was informed of business trips by MPs a few days before the trip resulting in booking at more expensive fares. If this was made on time, the state would incur lower costs for air tickets, it said, adding that in total €1.16m was spent between 2013 and 2017 on air tickets.

The Audit Office recommended better programming, as far as possible, by MPs so that air tickets are issued on time for the most advantageous prices to be achieved.

The report also said that it emerged that the instructions of the department of public administration and personnel regulating the control of public service hours are not being applied at the House.

While there is an electronic system for recording the time of arrival and departure of employees from their work, it is not used, it said. A record of attendance is kept instead, where the staff registration (except the managerial staff) is made in handwriting.

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