LONDON- When the British Parliament was hit by a massive scandal about its members' misuse of official expense accounts, it tasked a newly created Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) with the job of ensuring that the MPs' pay and perks would never again attract controversy.
But controversy is precisely what this watchdog is now generating, as it plans to unveil later this week proposals for an 11 per cent pay rise for MPs at a time when the salaries of British civil servants remain flat and the country is only slowly emerging from its biggest recession in generations.
Fearing a voter backlash, it has led ironically to a stampede of MPs, all falling over one another in promising that they never wanted the extra money and would not touch it when offered.
Until a century ago, British MPs were paid nothing; theirs was a job reserved for "gentlemen of private means".
And, even when salaries were introduced on the eve of World War I, they were never intended to provide an MP's chief source of revenue: Parliamentary sessions deliberately started in the late afternoon and went through the night in order to allow lawmakers to have a "proper day job", usually as a barrister or a banker.
Largely as a result, any move to raise MP pay levels proved troublesome given the general assumption among voters that the lawmakers must be rich.
As a result, parliamentarians avoided the politically toxic subject and, over time, pay scales were seriously eroded: In 1911, an MP's salary was six times the United Kingdom average earnings, yet by 1979, when prime minister Margaret Thatcher came to power, the same salary was less than double average earnings.
Meanwhile, MPs turned to the elaborate system of parliamentary expense accounts to supplement their income.
The result was a huge scandal in 2009, when it emerged that they charged everything from bath plugs to shelters for their pet ducks to the taxpayer.