Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s $63 billion budget which “seeks to re-establish fiscal discipline” came as no surprise to political analysts Dr Bishnu Ragoonath and Dr Maukesh Basdeo.
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The Constituency Development Fund: Another misadventure?
Countries, like individuals, succeed by committing to thought and study before action. Otherwise, theirs is the way of the ship without a pilot, “… drifting helplessly towards the rocks and to its doom.”
Two years ago, the Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development announced Cabinet agreement to provide $410 million in the 2013 budget for a Constituency Development Fund (CDF), with a $10 million allocation per MP for infrastructural projects in each constituency. He also advised that the AG would prepare legislation to govern the fund.
The late Professor John Spence responded: “… introduction of such a measure … involves constitutional issues.” He asked: “… why not attend to inefficiencies in Central and local government delivery of services rather than involving MPs in this job to the detriment of their parliamentary duties?”
Little more was heard until the Prime Minister’s confirmation a few days ago of a decision to include provisions for the CDF in the 2014-2015 budget. Absence of substantive details leads to questions about whether issues identified by the Minister at the time and concerns raised by Professor Spence have been addressed in the current CDF proposals.
Has the wisdom of careful analysis and considered thought influenced decisions about the fund? A CDF is a “… tool that dedicates public money to benefit specific political subdivisions (constituencies) through allocations and/or spending decisions influenced by their representatives in the national Parliament.”
CDFs have been in existence since the mid-1980s in an increasing number of developing countries, including Jamaica. Studies query the eagerness of policymakers to adopt CDFs, given the paucity of information on their long-term impact. What little is known seems to identify CDFs as primarily politically driven initiatives, having negative impact on accountability and service delivery, not subject to adequate monitoring and evaluation and being sources of corruption.
Advice is that they be actively discouraged in countries where they are being considered, and instead, the option of adopting more effective initiatives be pursued to strengthen central and local service delivery. There are fundamental concerns that CDFs breach the key democratic principle of the separation of power between the executive and legislative arms by drawing MPs into budget implementation responsibilities, the domain of the executive.
Such a distraction likely weakens the oversight capacity of legislatures and compromises their ability to represent the electorate. CDFs also effectively erode the capacity of local government to contribute to service delivery and development, displacing funding that might otherwise have gone to local authorities, and imposing additional, unplanned administrative and monitoring burdens. It is questionable, too, whether CDFs distribute allocations as progressively as other mechanisms.
Other issues include use of CDF allocations and project selection to influence the results of elections and misalignment of CDF projects with local development priorities. Chronic weaknesses in our accountability, transparency, governance and service delivery systems are well known. The last thing we need is another political misadventure which reinforces these shortcomings.
Better we fix and strengthen our broken governance systems and pursue decentralisation programmes more vigorously.
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