Saturday, February 23, 2008

European Parliament faces fraud enquiry

MEP Davies confirms "OLAF has the report"

European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) moved in swiftly on February 22, 2008 to secure a copy of "The Document," from the European parliament within 24 hours of requesting a copy, about which one member of the European Parliament (MEP) quipped, "This report is dynamite." The report prepared by European parliament's internal auditors focuses on how MEPs spent or allegedly misspent the taxpayers’ money.

So perilous is the extent of the fraud, it is claimed by a parliamentary source that the report can only be seen by members of the Budget Control Committee in a secret room, under surveillance and without taking notes or making copies.

Realising the gravity and extent of the possible misuse of public funds, Chris Davies, the young British MEP took the first step to bring it to light calling upon Franz Bruener, OLAF's Director General in a letter (see below), "As a member of the European Parliament's Budget Control Committee I was this morning permitted to read a copy of Internal Audit Report 06/02 on the parliamentary assistance allowance paid to MEPs for the employment of their staff. Currently I believe this amounts annually to more than 140 million Euro and represents some 10 percent of the Parliament's total expenditure."

MEP Davies told this journalist, "I believe the auditor's report was intended to be published and I think it a disgrace that it is being kept secret by the parliamentary authorities. The Parliament preaches the virtues of transparency and openness and it should start to practice them. The next step is that a copy should be given to every MEP and made public. Let the taxpayers judge what it says for themselves."

Asked to comment on reactions from fellow MEPs, Davies noted, "Support yes from some MEPs (Dutch for example, who have to work within a strong code of conduct agreed by the parties in that country)." He admitted to "some pressure from other British MEPs to shut up. Never on the basis that they are doing something wrong, but always from those who are passionate pro-Europeans, know how difficult it is to argue the pro-EU case in Britain, and believe that these revelations undermine the reputation of the Parliament. They also argue that attempts are being made to achieve reform."

MEP Davies said, "Too often it is a case of blame the messenger instead of blaming the cheats."

According to a parliamentary source, the report was kept in a secret room in an undisclosed location protected by biometric locks and security guards. Those few who enter can only do so after signing confidentiality agreements, and are prohibited from discussing what they discover inside.

The reliable source said on a condition of anonymity, "The secret room houses a confidential dossier on the ‘extensive, widespread and criminal abuse’ by Euro-MPs of staff allowances. So explosive are the figures that officials are terrified by the damage it could do should its contents be revealed to the public."

According to sources who have seen the report, the secret enquiry documents abuses of staff allowances by a sample group of 167 Euro MPs. Although the report does not name and shame any individual MEP, the detailed account of how in an unaccountable way the tax-payers' hard earned money is squandered with no taps or checks is appalling.
According to another reliable source, "It is widely rumoured that Italian MEPs have in many cases set up shadow companies/organisations to manage their staff budget. These organisations comply with the Parliament's rules but actually allow the money to be channelled towards individuals or political parties."

Asked to comment on it, MEP Davies said, "But what can you do? I am told that there is no mention whatsoever of this scandal in the Italian or Greek press, so how do you generate any pressure for change?"

Explaining the way the alleged fraud may have worked, MEP Davies added, "The Parliament provides a second pension scheme that the majority of MEPs have joined voluntarily. Parliament pays two thirds (GBP 18,000 pa or 24,000 Euro approximately) and the MEP is supposed to pay one third (GBP 9000 pa or 12,000 Euro). But the MEPs' contribution is deducted from their office costs allowance ‘for administrative convenience.’"

The catch lies in the fact that MEPs are supposed to pay it back personally but then the question arises how many do and how many just are too lazy to make that transfer. Commenting on this MEP Davies said, "I regard this equivalent to embezzlement and it is another disgrace that the Parliament has refused to change the arrangements that permit it."

Moreover, the fact to be noted is that the office allowance is worth more than GBP 30,000 pa (40,000 Euro) and "NO RECEIPTS WHATSOEVER" have to be provided to justify expenditure according to MEP Davies.

In the light of all this there was a panic among the lawmakers at what damage the report can inflict in the run-up to the European parliamentary elections in 2009.

"I love the Parliament. I am proud of the work that I and my colleagues do as MEPs. But I am angry that we allow procedures to exist that bring us all into contempt," MEP Davies concluded.

The report, its findings and its recommendations, are due to be discussed at the next Tuesday (February 26) meeting of the Budget Control Committee under the item 2006 discharge: EC general budget.



Mr Franz Bruener

Dear Mr Bruener

As a member of the European Parliament's Budget Control Committee I was this morning permitted to read a copy of Internal Audit Report 06/02 on the parliamentary assistance allowance paid to MEPs for the employment of their staff. Currently I believe this amounts annually to more than €140 million and represents some 10% of the Parliament's total expenditure.

Disgracefully in my view the document has been declared confidential under the Parliament's rules, pursuant to Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, that gives such authority to the President of Parliament, the chairmen of the parliamentary committees concerned and the Secretary-General and/or any person they have duly authorised by written delegation. I was therefore allowed to read the document only under supervision and was not allowed to make notes. Members authorised to read it are required to sign a confidentiality statement that prohibits the dissemination of the information.

The report, its findings and its recommendations, are due to be discussed at the meeting of the Budget Control Committee on 26 February under the item 2006 discharge: EC general budget.

OLAF was established to uphold the principle that the European Institutions have a duty to guarantee, with regard to the taxpayer, the best use of their money and in particular to fight as effectively as possible against fraud and any other illegal activity harmful to the financial interests of the Community.

In my view the findings of the Parliament's internal auditors fall within OLAF's terms of reference.

If a copy of report 06/02 has not yet been provided to you I believe you should insist that the parliamentary authorities provide you with one, and thereafter that the auditors should give you such further information as may be needed to commence investigations against individuals.

There is a great reluctance amongst some MEPs to ensure that the financial procedures of the European Parliament in relation to its members are put on the same sound basis that we would expect of other public institutions. Maybe when some MEPs are named, exposed for defrauding the Parliament and the public, and are sent to prison, a more acceptable approach will be adopted.

I would be pleased to discuss this matter with yourself or Ms Heinkelmann.
Yours faithfully

Chris Davies MEP
European Parliament

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Afghanistan likens itself to US Mexican border woes

Need personnel, modern equipment, neighbours’ help

More than seven years since the ouster of the Taliban, Afghanistan is suffering its worst spell of violence in recent years with hundreds of foreign troops and thousands of civilians killed in what is termed a resurgence of the Taliban.

As the population reels under severe weather conditions, economic hardships and the ever-present threat of terrorist attacks, there is an urgent need to build and supplement Afghan defence forces.

Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi on February14 reiterated the need for a stronger and well-equipped Afghan defence system arguing that it’s even cheaper to sustain than the foreign troops in the country.

Addressing Brussels-based journalists through a satellite link, General Azimi said, “Afghan National Army is a confident defensive institution with more than 60,000 personnel who have been able to get the confidence of international community and people of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Army has led some important operations such as Maiwand, operation Khybar and recently the operation in Musa Qala.” Advocating that increasing the size of the Afghan National Army is much cheaper than paying for thousands of NATO and US troops, currently deployed in Afghanistan General said, “From an economical point of view, expenses of Afghanistan Army is much lower. It means expenses of one foreign soldier could be the equivalent for 60 to 100 Afghan National Army soldiers.”

Outlining the three main challenges facing the army today, the General said, “First, the number of Afghan National Army which is agreed for 86,000 troops should be increased in case of necessity.

Second: Lack of heavy weapons like tanks which can increase the morale of troops.

Third: Lack of airpower which can perform logistic, transport, air strikes and reconnaissance activity.”

On the question of recruitment of youth in the national army vis-a-vis the terrorist organisations like the Taliban, General Azimi said, “I can tell you that Afghan youth are interested to be in Afghanistan Army and economical aspect of this army is not important for our youth.”

“The thing which is important for them is that they are interested to defend their country. They are interested to defend democracy and they are interested to defend their national values. For instance, in March 2007 it was decided to increase the number of National Army by two times by the end of 2007. During the eight months we have been able to complete the number of our Afghan National Army. It means that we have been able to attract Afghan youth to Afghan National Army.”

On the subject of the present winter lull in the terrorist activities and projected situation in upcoming Spring, General said, “We don’t expect that upcoming spring or the spring of 2008 to be harder than the spring of 2007 because when we started spring of 2007, we had around 30,000 troops ... we didn’t have advanced equipment in the beginning of 2007.”

“But now by the beginning of 2008 or by the beginning of the spring of 2008, we will have around 70,000 troops, we will have advanced equipment; we will have M16 weapons, we will have M4... we don’t expect that this spring will be harder and we are not concerned at all about upcoming spring.”

Commenting on the urgent needs to monitor the Afghan border, General said, “I think Afghanistan’s border needs four important points. First of all, we need a strong border force for our border. For example, we have more than 5,600-kilometre border with different countries and the number which is determined for Afghan National Border Police is just 12,000. So 6,000 or 7,000 of them could be busy in headquarter services. We will just have 5,000 or 6,000 troops. So they won’t be able to protect all the borders because there is more than 5,600 kilometres.”

“The second thing is about technology. We should have advanced technology in order to monitor our border areas. So we need night-glasses. We need the equipment that could be used by our border police in order to monitor it.”

“The third point is the collaboration of people. Potentially, people are ready to help government in order to monitor the border.”

“The fourth point or element is the honest collaboration between two countries. So the two countries, those of the border between each other, they should honestly collaborate or co-operate with each other in order to make sure the security or the control of the border.”

Asked to comment on the question of whether Afghanistan had any plans to close the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, General Azimi said, “From a geographical point of view, there are a lot of terrain which are very difficult to pass or it means Afghanistan a mountainous country.”

Pointing to inability of even the US to close borders, the Afghan General said, “The complete closing of the border is impossible because when we see to the United States, United States is a powerful country, even they cannot shut or they cannot close their border with Mexico.”

The General expressed optimism, saying, “Yesterday Afghanistan was a centre of terrorism that was threatening the world. Today it is the centre of struggle against terrorism with having elected government, parliament, constitution, press freedom and more than six million of our children are going to school and women are struggling beside the men.”