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Fight over ownership of CDF

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Introduced in 2006, the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) was meant to finance minor development projects, among others, construction of bridges, boreholes and houses for civil servants.

A 2006 policy paper for CDF argues that the fund is there “to respond to immediate, short-term community development needs and is a means of ensuring that rural development spreads evenly throughout the country”.

But 12 years after its introduction, many issues have come out. For Chinsisi Kambale, a student at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi (Unima), time has come for a complete review of the whole programme because politicians abuse it in that they do not consult locals on projects to implement.

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Kambale claims that development projects that could have been constructed with CDF— such as boreholes, bridges among others— are substandard and, in many cases, not even constructed at all.

“CDF is meant to help construct social and economic basic amenities but, from the look of things, parliamentarians—in various constituencies—do not consult when they want to come up with projects. This betrays us as constituents,” Kambale says.

Rashida Laika Winesi, another Chancellor College student, chipped in quickly, claiming that structures for managing CDF are clearly spelt out in the Local Government Act and indicate that area development (ADCs) and district development committees (DDCs) should work together with legislators for the smooth utilisation of such funds.

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“It is shocking to note that legislators are in the forefront championing development on their own, forgetting that their role is to make laws. They are too much into development work, a development that makes them forget to provide checks and balances to the CDF and other matters,” she states.

According to her, citizens should participate in all development projects, including those under the CDF, without leaving them to lawmakers.

All these issues were centre stage at a recent debate in Zomba, organised by the Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) and the Public Affairs Committee (Pac), Catholic Education Commission (CEC) and Trocaire to get views from the public with regards to the future of CDF.

During the debate, it was noted that CDF funds belong to the citizenry and, as such, people should fight for transparency and accountability from their district councils and parliamentarians on all projects.

Mejn’s Project Manager, Mike Banda, said in an interview citizens should not be spectators in the implementation of CDF projects, warning passiveness would lead to continued abuse of funds; hence, change in the whole administration of the funds.

“It is very clear that parliamentarians monopolise everything within the confines of CDF because they say, by virtue of it being the Constituency Development Fund, it entirely belongs to them. This is not true; such funds are for the public and they have to be heard as to what development projects they want,” he said.

Recently, Director of Planning and Development for Mulanje District Council, Emmanuel Bulukutu, said citizens should know how to amicably engage their leaders.

He noted that militant approaches will aggravate grievances between citizens and their leaders.

But that aside, Pac, which is a grouping of faith-based and civil society organisations in Malawi, has alluded to the fact that efforts to have the Local Government Act reformed seems to be hitting a blank wall as Malawi’s Members of Parliament (MPs) are said to be not happy with the amendments.

Pac in partnership with other stakeholders, are geared on having the 2010 Local Government Act reformed following challenges faced in councils.

The amended act also seeks to clear mist on the roles of legislators and ward councillors as MPs have in the past been accused of taking the role of councillors of spearheading development activities using CDF.

The delay to have the changes being tabled in Parliament has annoyed Pac, which has faulted the MPs, saying the legislators want to have total control over CDF.

Pac Programmes officer, Stella Chikombole, said that there is need for collective efforts in as far as handling the CDF is concerned because it belongs to the public.

“The public has to be the leader in administering CDF and not legislators. It does not make sense to see MPs taking control of the funds because they monopolise everything,” Chikombole said.

In actual sense, Malawi’s Parliament passed the 2017/18 budget worth K1.3 trillion after Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe was bulldozed to accept a 66-percent increase in the CDF from K18 million to K30 million.

At that time, Phalombe South Democratic Progressive Party parliamentarian Mary Livuza Mpanga asked Gondwe to send his team and do investigations to find out if, indeed, MPs were abusing the CDF, arguing it is in the councils where the abuses take place.

Balaka Central-East MP Aufi Mpaweni (United Democratic Front –UDF) said Gondwe could not appreciate the impact of CDF because the minister was not an MP.

Malawi is on record to have emulated the CDF concept from Zambia—a neighbouring country—from where many challenges have also been reported.

For example, a writer in her article ‘Does Zambia need to change how CDF is allocated’ argues that CDF does not address the fundamental problems.

She says CDF corrupts the proper functions of MPs; encourages corruption and mismanagement; and is a poor attempt at “fiscal decentralisation”.

Until all bones are put together, Malawians, especially in the rural areas, will not be able to appreciate the impact of CDF. But what remains clear is that Pac and Mejn want the CDF to be handled by structures which are enshrined in the Local Government Act such as ADCs and VDCs

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