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Constituency development funds, disasters
As a debate is beginning to emerge about the decision of the Government to implement Constituency Development Funds (CDF) for the empowerment of MPs, one wonders about the criticisms that have been levelled against all MPs over the years about their ineffectiveness and lack of performance in the system of government.
Now that something is finally being done to empower all MPs of whichever political party, there seems to be chorus line developing of holding back on such empowerment. So many people are crying corruption and waste and nothing has been implemented as yet. This is not a situation of a party caucus taking a decision for its MPs not to attend committee sitting of Parliament so that there will be no quorum thereby scuttling the sitting, nor is it a case of MPs running to hide in bathrooms when a vote on a controversial measure is about to be taken.
This is about finding ways to deliver services to people outside of times of disaster like what happened in northwest Trinidad last week. Whether the availability of constituency development funds in the hands of the three MPs in the Diego Martin area would have brought faster relief in the aftermath of the disaster is a matter of debate. Would they have wanted to have the availability of funding that would have allowed them to personally address the situation in the way that they wanted ?
The reality is that there is a lot that can be done with constituency development funds if they are properly handled. As I pointed out last week, they would more than likely be controlled by the Parliament as opposed to any Ministry and their use would have to be carefully defined. There are some in our society who would rather wait for another discussion on constitutional reform before anything can be done.
My own view is that the society cannot wait for new methods of delivery to be concocted through a process of constitutional reform discussions. This has more to do with organisational theory and behaviour than it does with constitutional reform. People are getting tired of waiting on local government reform and constitutional reform. These issues have straddled more than one administration and there is a stranglehold on delivery and performance.
The idea of constituency development funds must be introduced into the armoury of available tools for the delivery of goods and services in constituencies rather than being subjected to an endless discourse on reform of local and central government. People are no longer concerned about whether their services come from the balisier, or the rising sun, or any other political symbol. There is a lot of infrastructural and environmental decay that has led us to where we are in terms of having to manage more natural disasters and acts of God than ever before.
The budgetary allocations for disaster relief will have to be increased across the board as we grapple with global climate change, environmental misdeeds of the past and poor environmental and sanitation habits by our own citizens. The human toll and the emotional distress are matters that have to be factored into the response of the State. Once we start to make it political we are guilty of the sins that put us there in the first place.
The State can do its part and so too can civil society as we have seen this last week. If we can avoid trying to score political points out of people’s trauma and desperation, then we make a quantum leap towards becoming a developed country. Constituency Development Funds will allow our MPs to set agendas for activities in their constituencies that have a long-lasting positive effect by connecting the MP to the immediate needs of the constituency. Why would anyone want to deny the MP the opportunity to prioritise what is important to be done in their constituencies? They will all be judged by their performance and what they spend the money on.
Another area that ought to be given attention is to provide for a constituency reporting day on the agenda of the House of Representatives. All MPs should be required to report on their use of the funds allocated to them in a special sitting every month. This should be held outside of the Private Members’ Day and the Standing Orders will obviously have to be amended to provide for this. In the interim, the Government that controls the majority can set aside a day especially for this activity while the wider issue of reform of the Standing Orders is undertaken.
As I pointed out last week, there will be controversies with the implementation of such a fund and there will be a fear that so much infrastructural repair and rectification will redound to the benefit of the incumbent government. The decision to be made is whether this is a policy decision whose time has arrived and do we think that our electorate still makes decisions based on infrastructural repair or have they moved way ahead of that?
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