As the May 2014 tripartite elections are fast approaching, Members of Parliament (MPs) are desperate to show their constituents something that they have achieved during their five years of mostly noise-making, political prostitution, corruption and personal aggrandisement in the National Assembly. Thus, the legislators reckon that a small bridge here, a white elephant of a health centre there, a toilet at that corner of a neglected primary school and maybe even a paved road to nowhere could come in handy as they launch a dishonest defence of their record as their people’s representatives in Parliament.
As a former community development practitioner during my days at the Local Development Fund (LDF), a local development financing arm of the Ministry of Finance, I appreciate that parliamentary involvement in community development is important and that the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) is an important tool for achieving that.
The CDF can also be an effective tool for promoting participatory policy-making and implementation of development projects, especially in the age of demand-driven development within the context of a deepening decentralisation process.
The CDF is being implemented in a number of countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Pakistan, Jamaica and India.
Even the United States of America has its own version of CDF under what is called congressional allocations.
In derogatory terms, Americans refer to their brand of CDF as “pork barrel”, “earmarks” or “member items.”
In America, these allocations are so fraught with corruption that some senators have resigned in disgrace as a result.
In fact, there is now a big push to end these expenditure items because they are seen as a wasteful application of public resources on pet projects as their impact in terms of both input and outcomes is negligible other than boosting the lobbying industry and offering fertile ground for corruption.
In Malawi, there are stories of outright cases of abuse and how MPs have failed to account for CDF resources.
Other problems haunting the fund in Malawi include mis-procurement, use of substandard materials and general poor workmanship on the projects.
Some MPs have literally been found spending this money as if it is a personal trust fund.
Further, I personally believe that with the LDF now fully operational and fairly successful despite a few teething problems, CDF is unnecessary.
It is in fact a duplication of what the community window of the LDF is doing at a larger, more efficient, transparent and effective scale.
I also believe that it is this fixation on championing local level development as a vote-winning formula that prevents our legislators from looking at the bigger picture—issues of national interest.
That is why it is always comical to hear an MP asking for a borehole or a police post in the middle of a financial year instead of discussing broad national policy issues.
In any case, why should a right-thinking MP press for a 100 percent increase in the CDF from K5 million to K10 million and add K965 million to a National Budget whose mathematics is already failing to add up?
Why should they make such a demand in the middle of a financial year, even going to the extent of forcing a deferment of the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) vote—which pays for CDF?
Why are the legislators in so much of a hurry that they cannot wait to get the increase in the next budget which starts in July—just four months away?
More importantly, why should Finance Minister Ken Lipenga even want to entertain this crazy demand? Is it because he, too, wants to use the CDF as the election campaign tool it has always been? Is it that he is afraid his colleagues in the House would shoot down his supplementary budget? Or, is it because he is too weak to tell off the MPs?
Whatever the reasons, Lipenga must know that he has a very delicate national budget giving direction to a very fragile national economy.
The fiscal decisions he makes, or he is being cow-towed to make, could have chilling effects on the health of an economy already on its deathbed. There has been too much economic uncertainty already as a result of delays to conclude the supplementary budget process. Do we have to add more worry?
Our MPs should also grow up and start thinking about the nation for the first time in their miserable political lives rather than just worrying about their pockets and the safety of their parliamentary seats.
As a country, we have very serious problems to deal with and we need to have serious debates on how to dig this country out of the hole these same politicians dug and threw all of us in. It is unbelievable that the whole nation is being held to ransom to achieve such cheap aims.
The only good news is that the voters are watching this amateurish brinkmanship being displayed to their detriment and will soon pass their judgement.