Heard the story about the expense claims made by three Senators? I am disappointed by the number of people who have said that if the claims were paid, then it isn’t the fault of the Senator making the claim, fault lies with the staffer who processed the claim. As someone who has found issues with expense claims by executives and members of Boards of Directors (read leaders), it can be a career limiting move (CLM) first of all to find the issue and then try to stop the reimbursement or worse yet, report the issue up the chain as required by the code of conduct policy of the organization.

In one case, a Director was claiming for air travel to attend a one hour Board meeting where most of the other Directors had used teleconferencing facilities. It was convenient in that he wanted to get to the location for personal reasons but was doubly convenient to pass the cost onto the organization. When querying the Director about the expense, I was told to butt out and that it was none of my business; although part of my job as Corporate Secretary was to check that claims were within the Board’s expense reimbursement policy. The Chair had to be notified of any issues and luckily she was one who was careful about how the organization spent the owners’ money and of the example set by Directors, so she dealt with it effectively.

Any guess on how that Director treated me in future Board meetings? Because of his trying to pocket a few hundred dollars. My colleagues thought I should have let it go. Really – that’s is an acceptable practice? Another time, I found an executive who was receiving a monthly car allowance and also claiming mileage and all maintenance costs for his vehicle. This is a case of double dipping. When I brought the item to the Board, it was a “shoot the messenger” reaction as if I had been a dupe to allow it to have happened over the past year – in fact I found it on the first expense report that I was asked to approve. Turns out the prior Board Chairs had let it go.

Another time, I found excessive claims by Directors for hotel and meal charges. The hotel was not on the approved list of hotels and the meal along with the various amounts of wine which were consumed was well over the allowance granted in the policy. Staff rejected the claim and presented it to me even though it had been approved by the Board Chair. I had to make the call to the Chair and was told that as a simple “staffer” I had no right to question the expenses of a Director and I was insulting the Chair’s integrity since the Chair had already approved the claim for payment. This one cost me big time (CLM) – I wasn’t the one taking the money – I was accused of being insubordinate. Here’s the rub. When things don’t go their way, the perpetuators cite the “rules.” The refrain is usually – the rules were not clear enough or the rules allowed it.

My favourite is the rules did not disallow it. Isn’t it fair to expect leaders of organizations and communities to do what is right and which is aligned with the spirit and intentions of the guidelines, and do what is appropriate in the view of the stakeholders? Rules cannot contemplate every situation – principles should guide the decision making. The taxpayer should not be paying for a senator to travel to unnecessary meetings or meetings to benefit private interests. Accountability is a fundamental part of being on the public purse, but, all too often; heaven help the lowly “staffer” who tries to point it out to our leaders.

By: Fay Booker

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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