Credit cards for personal expenses

Credit cards for personal expenses

Recently there has been a real media circus over the use of official credit cards by politicians for their personal expenses. In particular, former minister Shane Jones who (very unwisely) used his ministerial credit card to pay for adult movies.

It reminded me of an expense claim I once submitted where the hotel receipt was about 3 m long and listed several hundred such items.

It happened on a business trip to Montréal in January 1980 to attend the annual meeting of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association. Towards the end of this 5-day meeting a workshop had been arranged on our current state of knowledge of one particular part of paper machines. About a dozen experts from all over the world had been invited to give short, sharp lectures, covering the topic in about 20 chapters. Each chapter lasted between 5 and 20 minutes. After five hours of this intensive, one-way communication my job was to speak for 60 minutes under the title “summary and overview”. I was not provided with copies of speakers notes beforehand, so needed to stay alert throughout the day, adapting my presentation as we went.

Because of this I was on my very best behaviour for the whole week, avoiding alcohol and getting to bed really early. I wanted to be really sharp on my big day.

The hotel had installed technology which was very new for the time. Both the TV and minibar were hooked up to the central computer, so any usage was automatically recorded. When I came to check out from the hotel I was asked whether I had used either. I had not. “Excuse me sir, I’ll be back in just a minute” was the response.

About five minutes later the person returned, handing me a bill which must have been about 15 pages of computer printout. To my amazement it showed that I had consumed on average about 40 miniatures of whiskey, plus 10 or more adult movies, for each of the six days of my stay! At the very bottom there was a single line entry, a credit for about $CAN 6000: “adjustment for bar charges”.

It turned out that there had been some teething troubles with the new system affecting all the rooms in that wing. Whenever the refrigerator motor turned itself on there was a good chance it rang up a whiskey from the minibar and/or another blue movie.

I was delighted to have such a receipt and when I got home attached it to my expense claim without explanation. To my great disappointment the accountants in internal audit, usually a real pain over expense claims, did not make a murmur.

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