Sunday, June 24, 2007

Where Now Sir John?

One rule for all

Last week the Public Audit Commission ruled on the case of Sir John Bourn's travel expenses (see here for PAC papers). They were responding to Private Eye's revelations that he had been jetting around the world first class with his wife in tow, and all at our expense.

To those of us intent on the prosecution of government waste it was all a great shock and a serious disappointment. We blogged it here, and called for Sir John's resignation/immediate retirement here.

But the PAC has decided that is unnecessary:

"The Commission concluded that there was no evidence of impropriety in the use of public money, and that the expenditure had been in accordance with the existing rules on such expenditure."

True, "in the light of the public concern", they've agreed the rules need to be tightened:

"There was a need for a more transparent system for the Comptroller and Auditor General’s travel expenses. Such a system would include prior oversight of the travel expenses by someone other than the Comptroller and Auditor General."

But to us, tightening the travel rules is not really the point. The Comptroller and Auditor General certainly needs to be above the boondoggling first class travel which is apparently the "established practice for senior diplomats". But he needs more than that. Most of all, as we said before, he needs to be above suspicion.

We expected better of our WasteFinder General, and we stick to our view that he is now fatally compromised.

In 1647, when Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins failed his own test for witchcraft, angry villagers reportedly hanged him. In 2007, it's surely not too much for us taxpayers to demand that 73 year old Sir John fall on his index-linked pension.

PS A well-informed BOM correspondent has pointed out that we are virtually the only major country in the world where the Auditor General holds his post indefinitely. That's right. If he doesn't go gracefully, he can only be removed by a vote in both Houses of Parliament. Virtually everywhere else this vital job has a fixed tenure. Why can't we have the same? Especially since we reckon with 19 years under his belt, Bourn may be the longest serving C&AG since the modern post was established in 1866. Tyler will dig further.

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