Parliament yesterday passed the 2017/18 National Budget worth K1.3 trillion after legislators held to a ransom a K193.8 billion allocation to the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) as a bargaining chip.
The House had to adjourn for at least one hour to allow Cabinet ministers and party leaders to meet over the impasse which emanated from members of Parliament’s (MPs) demand for a 66 percent increase in the Constituency Development (CDF) from K18 million to K30 million.
However, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe relented that the CDF would be increased to K23 million.
The MPs’ demand has pushed the CDF expenditure from roughly K3.4 billion to around K4.4 billion for all the 193 constituencies, an increase of K1 billion which has been withdrawn from the K15 million allocation for five boreholes per constituency.
“As far as the figures are concerned, we agreed that CDF be increased to K23 million and K12 million for water projects per constituency. It was agreed that we will, as a House, strongly recommend that those tarnishing our image be prosecuted,” Gondwe reported to the House.
The MPs wanted a K12 million increase to the CDF to go up to K30 million on the basis that it is the only mechanism for them to carry out development projects in their constituencies.
During debate on the NLGFC vote, Balaka Central East MP Aufi Mpaweni (United Democratic Front-UDF) went as far as reminding the minister that the 2017/18 budget was creeping closer to the 2019 elections, implying that the development projects would be used to campaign for their retention in the House.
Earlier this week, Gondwe disclosed that a systematic audit of the CDF, and District Development Fund (DDF) has found that the funds have been grossly abused with about K80 million missing from the K3 billion allocated to 16 districts in the last financial year.
The minister said he would only increase the CDF by K2 million to K20 million until the regulations for administering the fund were examined to ensure resources are used for intended purposes and that the structures constructed are of acceptable quality and standards.
But Dowa North East MP Richard Chimwendo-Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), who is also chairperson of the Social and Community Welfare Committee of Parliament, said the minister was punishing all MPs when there were a few errant legislators who should be taken to task.
He said: “You cannot punish all constituencies because of two or three people. Yes, we should not condone corruption, but those abusing CDF should face the law.”
Chimwendo-Banda proposed a compromise that if the minister could not manage increasing to K30 million then K25 million would be adequate.
However, his proposal was not welcomed by some MPs who were heard calling out ‘30! 30!’
Other MPs blamed district council officials for holding on to CDF funds until the financial year elapses so they could misuse the money.
Mpaweni said Gondwe could not appreciate the impact of CDF because he was not an MP.
After the impasse was resolved, leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera said introducing new regulations would not address the mismanagement of the CDF but prosecution of the culprits.
“Those not following the regulations must be prosecuted in accordance with the law. We must insist that regulations are followed by everyone,” he said. n