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Constituency Development Fund: A political charade?

It was reported in the papers last week that our Members of Parliament (MPs) bulldozed the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe into increasing Constituency Development Fund (CDF) from K18 million to K30 million. The narrative is that the MPs from both sides of the House were united in threatening the minister that they would not pass the budget unless the CDF was increased. The House had to adjourn for at least one hour after the Leader of Opposition proposed that Cabinet ministers and party leaders meet over the impasse, a development that saved the situation. Originally, Gondwe had proposed that the CDF increase by 11 percent to K20 million but, instead, the House approved a 67 percent increase.

This is not the first time that the “cosmetic unity” of the honourable members has gone on parade. If a proposal somehow benefits them, these honourable members forget all their differences and unite. This parade is always repeated when it comes to salaries and allowances of the MPs. Ideally, an increase in funds going to the benefit of the community should be applauded. However, caution should be exercised in understanding the motives of this appetite for an increase. The Nutcracker believes that political rather than developmental forces are the drivers of this sudden show of concern for their constituents. The elections are down the corner and these MPs will have to justify to their constituents why they should be given another chance Parliament. The CDF is a sure way of demonstrating that they have delivered something to their bosses, the voters. There is nothing wrong in this endeavour if these MPs are held accountable for the use of these funds.

Voters should be worried, especially after Gondwe told Parliament and the nation at large that these funds are systematically abused. It is in the same week that Gondwe disclosed that the systematic audit of 16 councils found that the CDF, Local Development Funds (LDF) and District Development Fund (DDF) have gone down the drain, without any projects on the ground. Perhaps, this was the reason Gondwe was very reluctant to increase these funds. This means that, for the last few years, even though allocations are released, hardly any projects, ongoing or accomplished, exist to give credence and justification for the release of funds.

Does this mean that despite the due process of bidding and the award of contracts, the contractors are believed to be proxies of the MPs and hence the projects are hardly ever executed even when payments are made? Or does the problem lie somewhere else? The Nutcracker understands that the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development developed guidelines for the administration of the CDF. The CDF guidelines cover project identification, procurement, and maintenance of accounts/ cashbooks for the projects, among other issues. The guidelines identify the district commissioner/chief executive officer, where applicable, as a controlling officer. The controlling officer is required to ensure that any procurement carried out using the CDF should comply with the Public Procurement Act, while the use of public funds should comply with the Public Finance Management Act. Who is to blame for the abuse of these funds?

There is also a bigger question for the voters as 2019 approaches. Should this practice, which, according to Gondwe, has delivered no dividends, be continued with? If the answer is yes, how do the constituents ensure that the CDF is used judiciously for the purpose set out in the Act. Are we not travelling an old and well-worn corrupt path that has made Malawi a laughing stock in the world? The temptation for the MPs to inevitably dip their hands into the CDF— through inflated contracts, commissions and bogus constituency project fund— is very high.

There is a democratic quagmire in the CDF process. If the MPs are indeed responsible for implementation of the funds, then there is a problem. Unfortunately, Gondwe’s capitulation drives a death knell into the fight against corruption. This will make it difficult for the legislature to play its oversight role in cases where other MPs will have been proven to have abused the funds. This is because the role of the legislature should be limited to law-making and oversight functions, as the executive perfects execution and accountability particularly for infrastructure projects. When they wrestle the implementation function from the executive branches, the concept of separation of power becomes opaque.

If Gondwe’s acceptance of the increase was indeed a compromise to the threat that the MPs were not going to pass the budget, then Parliament has put the executive in an awkward position, and this could potentially lead to some form of horse trading whose only impact will be short changing the constituents.

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