Legislators yesterday rejected a K51 billion allocation to the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) as a bargaining chip in their push for more than 100 percent increase to the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe was later in the afternoon forced to raise the CDF from K12 million to K18 million per constituency, paving the way for the approval of the NLGFC vote.
CDF—a tool for parliamentary involvement in community level projects within the rubric of decentralisation using under the legislator’s influence—is a budget line within the NLGFC vote.earmarked public funds
Apart from CDF, this is the vote that carries the hopes and dreams of the poor as it also finances local councils’ budgets that deliver projects and services to people in communities who also happen to be members of Parliament’s (MPs) constituents.
The MPs—who control how CDF is spent and seemingly uses it to build their political bases—wantedthe fund to jump to K25 million from the current K12 million.
This demand would have pushed the CDF budget from roughly K2.3 billion currently to around K4.8 billion for all the 193 constituencies.
This additional expenditure could further strain a national budget already under pressure from dwindling domestic revenue, a lack of budgetary support, high domestic debt and food shortages that have left 6.5 million people requiring emergency food and cash help over the next nine months.
But Gondwe contended that government cannot afford more than doubling the CDF budget.
But he tried to compromise, offering to hike the figure to K15 million per constituency or K2.9 billion in total to pacify the MPs.
It is too little an increase, bellowed several MPs in Parliament yesterday. But some MPs also showed willingness to meet Gondwe halfway.
“Taking into account price fluctuations on materials, we feel that CDF should be raised to at least K18 million to be comfortable,” said MP for Rumphi East Kamlepo Kalua (People’s Party-PP).
Some argued that CDF is more effective than the District Development Fund (DDF)—which is approved by ward councillors seen as potential rivals in the next parliamentary election.
Nkhotakota North East MP Everson Makowa Mwale (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) said CDF was the most effective means of local development in his constituency as it had facilitated the construction of bridges and school blocks damaged by floods and hailstorms.
He said: “The same cannot be said of DDF [District Development Fund]. I don’t know where the money goes and there is no work on the ground.”
The MPs conveniently forgot that it is, in fact, CDF, which has more incidences of financial abuse.
Gondwe reminded the MPs that if the DDF was not effective, then MPs too were to blame because they sit in local council committees where they can provide oversight.
He said in principle he could not increase allocations to votes by more than 25 percent because there was little room for revenue collection to cater for the increases.
Reasoned the minister: “Civil servants are watching and accusing me of treating MPs more favourably. They, too, would like an increase. I cannot go on and on [increasing allocations] for MPs because we are accountable elsewhere, not just here.”
That appeal went on deaf ears as MPs proceeded to reject the NLGFC vote.
The government side lost in a division vote with 71 votes against 49 who were satisfied with the CDF increase from K12 million to K15 million.
The unsatisfied MPs frustrated the minister when he had bowed down to their demands for additional funds for Parliament plenary and committee meetings.
The minister literally begged the MPs to agree to the K1 billion increase on the National Assembly vote from K9.4 billion to K10.4 billion, when they had demanded K3 billion.