Ministers face tight controls

By Adam Bennett

Ministerial Services expects to win greater powers to hold ministers to account over misuse of their taxpayer-funded credit cards, the Department of Internal Affairs says.

Chief executive Brendan Boyle, who has ultimate oversight of Ministerial Services, yesterday defended the department's record in monitoring ministers' use of credit cards.

He told Parliament's government administration committee the 16,000 pages of records released last week "shows there was a high degree of scrutiny, including a lot of contact between Ministerial Services and ministers' offices".

Mr Boyle said he was comfortable that processes were "clear and robust" in spite of the records showing many ministers had to be repeatedly prodded to supply receipts, justify expenditure and repay money spent on personal items including blue movies, clothing, tobacco and alcohol.

"Our main concern was ensuring that money was repaid when it needed to be, and it was."

Mr Boyle said Ministerial Services already had the power to remove ministers' cards where it believed instances of misuse warranted that, but had never used it.

Whether the agency should have more power to take action against ministers was now up to Auditor-General Lyn Provost, who is reviewing the use of the cards, and Prime Minister John Key, who is responsible for Ministerial Services.

Mr Key has already said credit card records will be released quarterly.

Mr Boyle said the "power imbalance" between Ministerial Services and ministers - which Mr Key last week said might have been a factor in ministers' lax responses to reminders - would likely be addressed by Ms Provost.

The Internal Affairs chief did not accept the defence offered by Labour MP Mita Ririnui and Progressives leader Jim Anderton that they believed it was acceptable for cards to be used for personal expenses as long as the sums were repaid.

"The handbook is very clear ..."

Ms Provost's ongoing review of ministerial credit cards began by looking at Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley's expenditure this year.

Mr Heatley subsequently repaid personal expenditure, as have former Labour Party ministers Chris Carter and Parekura Horomia, but the furore resulted in Mr Carter, Shane Jones and Mr Ririnui being demoted this week by Opposition leader Phil Goff.

- NZ Herald

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