In this season of mindset change, continued entertainment of the current configuration of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) demonstrates open defiance to maintain the status quo.
For most Members of Parliament, CDF is untouchable and probably one of the most important votes in the National Budget. The same cannot be said for ward councillors and most members of local councils and communities.
The increase of CDF from K30 million in the 2019/2020 financial year to K40 million in 2020/2021 budget is a recipe for local governance malaise as it is poised to continue deepening poor coordination among local structures.
Since its inception in 2006, CDF has largely, but erroneously, been used as a tool for promoting political relevance for parliamentarians other than a funding opportunity for developing communities. In any encounter with a councillor on duty, you are assured that one of the first two stories you will be told concern the fight they have with their parliamentarian over the ‘ownership’ of CDF.
For well-meaning citizens, their disillusionment with CDF lies in the way it is implemented and the overlaps that it creates within the decentralised structures.
The guiding frameworks for local development, the Local Government Act and the Decentralisation Policy of 1998, provide for Area Development Committees and Village Development Committees as platforms through which citizens participate in development processes of their areas.
However, the current normal in CDF implementation bypasses these formal structures. More often, parliamentarians establish their own structures which they wrongfully charge with responsibilities of identifying and overseeing the implementation of CDF projects.
Worse still, such structures are mostly made up of their henchmen as a payback platform. The result is that such committees end up elevating political priorities of their masters while relegating legitimate local structures to the peripheries of local development processes.
It is clear for all to see that parliamentarians monopolise everything within the confines of CDF because they say, by virtue of it bearing the name ‘constituency’, it entirely belongs to them. This misconception makes it difficult for community members to demand accountability.
The consequence is that the resultant projects are substandard and, in many cases, not constructed at all as a result of rampant abuse.
Ironically, CDF is faithfully disbursed to District Councils in respect of both timeframes and annual allocations. At the same time District Development Fund (DDF) continues to face challenges. On one hand, DDF has always been underfunded to cater for district development plans while on the other hand, the district allocations are delayed and oftentimes not fully disbursed within a budget cycle.
For example, in the just ended financial year, government apportioned and disbursed K5.8 billion in CDF to the 193 constituencies. On the other hand, an allocation of K8.3 billion w a s m a d e towards DDF to fund district development plans in the 462 wards of which only about 36 percent was disbursed.
The proposal to amend the Local Government Act to revisit the roles of parliamentarians and streamline funding modalities to local councils cannot come at any better time. It defeats logic to faithfully disburse the much-abused CDF when the most people-centred DDF projects continue to be under-budgeted and poorly funded.
In the interest of ensuring a functional local governance system, it is either we abolish CDF or remove MPs out of it. For this to be done, there is need for strong political will to ensure promotion of the role of councillors in local councils while confining parliamentarians to perform their legislative duties.
Our state coffers do not provide the luxury to go on footing the local government election bills just to usher in councillors that go direct into systematic idleness.
Otherwise, the anticipated resistance that this proposal is bound to face from our parliamentarians remains fertile ground for a fresh mindset-change lecture that the Vice- President needs to take to our Parliament.