In his address when he opened the 47th session of Parliament in Lilongwe last week, President Peter Mutharika lambasted Parliamentarians over reported abuse of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). Our Reporter FATSANI GUNYA engaged JEPHTER MWANZA a governance expert working with Link for Citizen Empowerment and Development, also known as The Link on this. EXCERPTS:
In your understanding, what necessitated Malawi [Parliament] to adopt Constituency Development Fund (CDF)?
CDF was introduced at a time the Bingu administration was under intense pressure to run a minority government. It was introduced to bolster the position of the Member of Parliament at constituency level. This was also a time when fears still abound of ward councilors ‘stealing the shine’ from the Parliamentarians by initiating and participating in various development projects within the constituency. The fund would, therefore, give the Parliamentarian an edge over his political ‘competitor’ in the ward councilor. But this is not to say the idea was bad. As a matter of fact, there are several instances we could give where constituencies have actually benefitted a lot from the fund through their respective industrious Members of Parliament (MPs).
Was it right to entrust the funds to the Parliamentarians?
It was a big mistake in terms of fund governance while politically; it was a big coup for the MPs for their local visibility. MPs, in a society like ours where political campaigns are rarely issue-based, one stands a better chance to scoring political points by being seen as the ‘saviour’; some provider of solutions to the people immediate needs of the communities. On the other hand, it kind of paved way for the same MPs, in their bid to impress the community, to end up abusing the fund. In most cases, it is heavily politicized with parallel development structures emerging to ‘benefit’ those from his/ her party. Unfortunately, this is the scenario in most of the constituencies across the country.
Is there any way of accounting the CDF?
There is a way but the power differentials between the local councils and combined voices of MPs at district level are too much slanted towards the MPs. This makes accountability a challenge. The fact that the Parliamentarian still retains some voting powers at council level defeats the purpose of decentralization. Parliament is mostly there for oversight, and it would be naïve of us to let it participate in the actual implementation of various existing policies. Who, then, can hold the other accountable when the MP is actually part of the implementation process? In a way, it’s one step forward and two backwards for Malawi as far as good governance is concerned.
Last week, President Peter Mutharika lambasted Parliamentarians over abuse of the fund (CDF). Was he justified?
We have been saying this over and over again. Lambasting MPs is not enough. What is needed is a clear proposal on how these errant parliamentarians are going to be taken to account. Unfortunately, there are no signs that this is going to happen soon. Most issues end up in such sweeping statements while plunder of hard-earned public resources continue. There is a reason why people said action proves why words are pointless!
In June last year, the Ministry of Finance [and Economic Planning] revealed in its reports that about 20 MPS were to face persecution for abuse of CDF but up until now, no action has been taken against them. How do we explain the scenario?
There have been many Parliamentarians in the past that have abused CDF but have gone away with it. A wrong precedence seems to have already been created. There is just talk without corresponding action. Unless someone comes out in the open to crack a whip on this, such tendencies are going to continue because, like I said, the precedence has already been created. But it’s never too late; we can still redeem the country from the corrupt nation we have become famous for. No one is going to cleanse it for us apart from ourselves. And on the other hand, is it not the same Parliamentarians who compete to ‘serve’ their respective constituents? For sure, I don’t think it’s fair on the electorates to use, misuse and abuse them in this way. The cycle must somehow break. This tends to dent the country’s governance set-up that clearly dictates it should be through councils and yet it is usually overwhelmed by politics in almost every aspect.
Where are we getting it wrong as Malawi in as far as disbursing CDF is concerned?
I think this tendency of always wanting to claim over some development initiatives is costing us a lot as a country. Either individual politicians or their respective parties always want to associate or align themselves to some developments and yet they have just been entrusted with an oversight role in its implementation. This is why we always have a pattern of abandoning project ‘A’ for project ‘B’ whenever new leaders are elected. I believe it is high time we let the local councils take the lead in implementation. As long as politicians take the lead, this mess will continue. Let the president and MPs in his party be the role model in implementation and the rest will follow suit. This is the only way the funds will serve their intended purpose before they are deemed as mere rhetoric. It’s time to walk the talk!
What roles can members of the public play to make the Fund not only sustainable but meaningful to the communities as well?
This is one area that also needs some serious overhaul. Most times, development projects are never demand-driven. Communities need to be involved in project identification, follow up on implementation and on finances through community monitoring teams that are drawn from across different parties.