Published: Sunday, June 2, 2013

Cash-for-query scandal rocks UK

The drama of cash-for-question, that shook the Indian parliament eight years ago, has now raised its ugly head in Britain.
In 2005, Indian MPs were caught taking bribe for asking questions in parliament. On Saturday, House of Commons bigwig and MP Patrick Mercer was caught red-handed in an undercover sting signing a contract of £2,000 a month to influence parliament in allowing Fiji to rejoin the Commonwealth.
Mercer has resigned as the Conservative whip over allegations that he broke parliament’s rules. Britain’s parliamentary rules actually bans paid advocacy.
He has also announced that he will not stand in the next general election.
Mercer who has earlier worked as a shadow minister for homeland security has been caught on camera negotiating a price with fake company Alistair Andrews Communications that claimed it was lobbying on behalf of the Fijian government for its return into the Commonwealth.
Mercer, unaware that it is a sting operation, said on camera: “I do not charge a great deal of money for these things. I would normally come out at £500 per half day, so £1,000 a day.”
Britain had suspended Fiji’s membership in 2009 because of the island nation’s abysmal human rights record.
Mercer promised to cook up a debate, table motions for voting and ask questions to ministers on their opinion about Fiji’s re-entry into the Commonwealth and he did just that.
In the end of March, Mercer laid an early motion which read: “This House recognizes that the government of Fiji is making all reasonable efforts to restore democracy, believes that in the light of ongoing hardship being endured by its businesses, there is no justification for Fiji’s continued suspension from the Commonwealth and, therefore, urges the government to arrange a ministerial visit in order to help prepare for and assist its readmission”.
Post his contract with the fictional Fiji lobby company, he also asked the Foreign and Commonwealth office to reveal what discussions the department has had with the government of Fiji about that country’s human rights record, about the status of Fiji within the Commonwealth and the effects on Fiji of its suspension from the Commonwealth.
He also pressed the FCO to make a statement on its policy on the readmission of Fiji to the Commonwealth.
He has been seen in the undercover sting saying on camera, “I should be rewarded for the advice that I give to yourselves and/or directly to the government of Fiji.”
The Newark MP also said, “As far as the consultancy is concerned, that happens outside of parliamentary hours. And I leave my parliamentary coat hanging outside.”
“You’re paying me £2,000 a month, if you want to talk to me about defence issues, security issues, policing issues, outside of Fiji, I’m your consultant,” he added.
Mercer also offered a Commons security pass to the fake firm.
The firm ultimately paid Mercer £4,000 for working two days a month. Mercer, however, hasn’t declared the earning to the parliamentary authorities.
Parliamentary rules are clear about the money MPs earn outside Parliament. It is mandatory for politicians to declare publicly money they receive besides their parliamentary salary.
In a statement, BBC’s Panorama has said “Patrick Mercer said he agreed to be a consultant for work he said was outside Parliament. But he submitted five parliamentary questions, which were all answered, as well as an early day motion — all in relation to Fiji”.
In a statement, Mercer has said “Panorama is planning to broadcast a programme alleging that I have broken parliamentary rules. I am taking legal advice about these allegations – and I have referred myself to the parliamentary commissioner for standards. In the meantime, to save my party embarrassment, I have resigned the Conservative whip and have so informed Conservative chief whip Sir George Young”.
A statement by 10 Downing Street supported Mercer’s decision and said, “The prime minister was aware of the allegations and thought Mr Mercer had done the right thing in referring himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and resigning the whip”.