Officials & consultants blamed for doctoring MPs’ medical travel costs
By Alfred Sasako
IT has emerged that Government officials are responsible for preparing hefty medical and travel costs for Members of Parliament seeking treatment in Australia, often without the knowledge of MPs, a Member of Parliament told Island Sun on Tuesday.
The MP who wishes to remain unnamed was reacting to revelation published by Island Sun newspaper last week that taxpayers forked out up to $500,000 each time an MP travels overseas for medical treatment.
The practice continued until earlier this year when the Office of the Prime Minister intervened by refusing to approve such a huge bill.
At one point the cost of travel for an MP had to be slashed to $290,000 but only after the Office of the Prime Minister had sent it back twice to the Caucus Office.
“Your report is all true,” the MP said.
“But, as we have now found out, the officials, particularly the Consultants who work in the Caucus Office, often prepare travel plans without our knowledge. They never show us the final cost nor do they show us how much money they get from Treasury for our travel.
“We thought whatever they gave us to sign was final. Now we know better. No wonder some now own more vehicles than MPs,” the MP said.
“As a matter of fact cost for medical check-up is pretty cheap, unless you undergo an operation. The cost then would be around AUD10,000, but for normal check up the cost is around AUD3,000,” the MP said.
Sources for the initial report told Island Sun that all travels for MPs seeking medical check-up in Australia are often prepared by the Caucus Office and paid for by the Office of the Prime Minister.
“Often they never show referrals from the National Referral Hospital or confirmation of appointments with doctors in Australia for these check-ups,” the sources told Island Sun.
According to the Parliamentary Entitlements Regulations (PER) 2018, MPs seeking medical treatment outside Solomon Islands must first obtain a referral by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. MPs are responsible for paying the cost of their accommodation during the duration of their stay overseas.
PER 63 says, “When a Member is sent out of the country for medical examination or treatment under Regulation 60 he or she shall be eligible for:
Passages by air at Government expenses at first class rate;
Essential examination and treatment at Government expense as arranged whenever possible by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in advance, including operation charges and the fees of doctors, anaesthetists or specialists.
PER 64 says, “Where charges for accommodation are incurred, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services will meet such charges which will subsequently be recovered from the Member.
“The Member will thereafter be required to reimburse the charges. If necessary, an advance of salary may be authorized under Part IV of these Regulations for such amounts and over such period as the Minister of Finance may decide. When the Minister of Finance is of the opinion that recovery of such costs either wholly or in part would result in hardship, he shall, with the concurrence of the Prime Minister, decide what proportion of the costs should be borne by the Member.
The PER also made it clear that MPs can only claim reimbursement for costs incurred in obtaining the services of a private practitioner with prior approval by the appropriate specialist of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services.
PER 67 says, “Unless referred by or with the approval of the appropriate specialist of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, a Member or his or her legal spouse or child who is medically examined by or receives medical treatment from a medical practitioner in private practice shall not be eligible to claim reimbursement of any expenses. No benefit conferred by this Part shall be available to a Member or his or her family whilst they remain under the professional care of a private practitioner.”
It is not clear whether MPs who are frequenting Sydney for their medical check-up are reimbursing the government for their accommodation costs, which the government has always paid up front.