Today’s Guardian runs an eye-opening piece on expenditures made in the last year of the Labour administration. The Tories are, in their drive for transparency, publishing expenditures made by various Government departments online. The documents relating to the Department of Communities and Local Government show:
Among the expenses revealed was £1,673 to a company called Stress Angels, which offers massages, acupressure, Indian head massage and reflexology…
Then there was £626 on a trip to a nature reserve in Nottingham and £539 on an awayday to Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Accommodation at a hotel – the Rubens, opposite Buckingham Palace – cost £17,000. Another £3,670 went to Halfords cycle shop.
The litmus test for the Tories will, of course, be whether they maintain their drive for transparency when it is going to expose even their own Government. We see this kind of thing happening all the time in Africa, relating to corruption. A new Government comes in promising change and a war against graft. For the first year they push hard to identify and punish culprits, making high profile arrests and prosecutions. These arrests and prosecutions damage the previous administration, normally the opposition party in Parliament.
Then as time goes on, the anti-corruption agency exhausts its ability to prosecute the opposition. It’s eyes turn towards current or recent corruption scandals – those that implicate the current regime. Suddenly, the political will dissipates – they’ve ‘done enough to show that corruption will not be tolerated’. Quietly, the support and direction of senior officials is withdrawn. The old bad habits reassert themselves and the Government continues to make merry with public funds.
Eventually they get voted out, and the whole cycle starts again. This happened in Kenya (though it all went a bit pear shaped when John Githongo showed the tenacity of a bull-terrier); it happened in Malawi and in almost identical circumstances, in Zambia.
It’s easy right now for the Tories to attack the culture of expenditure in Government, because the punches are landing on their opponents. The real win will be when they let the expenditures be published on a monthly or quarterly basis, and let the whip fall on themselves. After all, this is what we demand of developing country administrations. Why should the standards we hold for ourselves be different?