Members of Parliament (MPs) have adopted a motion that would compel Treasury to disburse Constituency Development Fund (CDF) by December, a move seen as calculated to ensure projects are completed in time for the 2019 Tripartite Elections campaign period.
Treasury would be required to disburse K4.4 billion towards CDF alone in the five-month period of July to December, but Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe has said there are more crucial expenditures than CDF.
Pandering to the whims of the MPs would put pressure on cash flow for other ministries and departments considering that government has in the first half failed to meet domestic revenue targets.
However, the mover of the private members motion, Nkhotakota South East MP Everson Makowa Mwale has rejected this assertion insisting that speedy disbursement of the CDF allocation would allow them to wind up their duties as MPs effectively.
CDF is an arrangement from Treasury to constituencies through local government to finance projects such as construction of bridges, school blocks and boreholes and is entrusted in the hands of legislators.
However, it has become a political tool that MPs use to hold the Finance Minister to ransom, successfully eliciting undue increases in the past.
The motion making the request reads: “That in order for the current parliamentary term of duty to be wound up most effectively as regards to CDF taking into account lessons in the past, this House resolves that all budgetary allocations under CDF in the Financial Year 2018/2019 should be disbursed for utilisation in the first six months of the financial year. In other words, in the period July to December, 2018.”
Makowa Mwale said the arrangement to disburse the K4 billion by December was feasible although he conceded that it would affect the cash flow.
He said: “This being the year of elections, most budget activities will be election-based. It is within the powers of the minister to decide that development projects be concentrated in the first half of the financial year and recurrent in the other half. From our experience, there have been lapses in the disbursement of CDF funds as money is not disbursed on time and crucial projects suffer as a result.”
On whether they would like projects completed for campaign purposes, Makowa Mwale said he would respect such sentiments but it was not the case as the proposal would also benefit coming MPs and the public.
The motion received support from the majority of MPs, with Dedza East MP Juliana Lunguzi evoking the emotions of the House by reminding them of the accident that has killed four pupils in Zomba.
“CDF enables citizens to see the impact of their taxes. You see what happened in Zomba, when the community put up a makeshift structure just so their children would not learn under a tree,” she said.
Dowa North MP Enos Chitatanga claimed Treasury did not disburse K2 million in the 2013/14 budget, leading to projects not being completed just because Parliament had come to an end pending elections.
There were even proposals to peg CDF at two percent of the budget similar to what happens in Kenya, but Gondwe said Treasury would not be compelled to honour the motion because it was not feasible.
Said Gondwe: “This will present us with a lot of difficulties considering that we have trouble collecting enough resources through the Malawi Revenue Authority. There are some expenditures which are more crucial than CDF. For instance, what if we are met with the challenge of repaying external debt interests in the same period, we would have to honour that first.”
While he was not available when the motion was passed, Gondwe said: “Even though the motion has been passed, it does not necessarily mean we can honour it.”
Last year, an audit of CDF and District Development Fund (DDF) found about K80 million missing from the K3 billion allocated to 16 districts in the last financial year.