Stuff gives people more power, representatives of people shudder

Fairfax Media is harnessing the raw power of the crowd to try and weed out a few more dodgy financial dealings from our elected officials, giving the public the chance to trawl through the thousands of pages of credit card transactions and receipts from 2003  to 2010 that were collated by The Department of Internal Affairs and review them online. Of course, the carcass of the MPs’ spending has already been picked over by journalists, and the results have been there for all to see. But there just aren’t enough hours in the day (or journalists who haven’t gone to PR) to sift through them all. So, taking a lead from The Guardian in the UK, following its own MPs’ expenses scandal, Fairfax is crowd-sourcing the sifting process to you, a valued and decent contributing citizen of New Zealand society, “to find out which MPs have been wasting tax dollars and who deserves further attention”. Ah, sweet online democracy.

Each receipt has buttons to the right which you can click to tell us if it’s worth further investigation and you can add notes if there is something specific you’d like to say. If you’re not sure, you can skip to another random receipt. Already, over 10,000 of the 16,500 pages have been reviewed.

There’s a few criteria set out to help your discerning eye trawl through the thousands of receipts. Here’s what you should be looking for:

1) Items that cost much more than they should (eg: $1,000 suits, $200 bottles of wine)

2) Spending lots of money in short periods of time (eg: $1,000 in restaurant bills is alright for a month, not for a day)

3) Strange explanations from MPs (Do they keep losing their luggage on overseas trips? Do they give vague reasons for large bills?)

4) No details on the bill (eg: $2,000 on “room charges” in a hotel bill, with no more info).

5) Things that have no business being paid for by the public (eg: movie tickets, new cars, home electricity bills)

Now, for example, you can comment on the $710.50 spent this year on lunch by Murray McCully’s staff, as per the example on the left. Power to the people.

You can follow the discussion on Twitter using #expenses.

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