PARLIAMENT’S decade-long experiment with the Constituency Development Fund appears incapable of evading turbulent waters.
It was announced recently that nearly two-thirds of legislators (142 MPs) had not applied for CDF with Parliament now in its third quarter of its ninth session.
A further 87 MPs did not apply for the funds between 2018 and 2019.
Speaker of the National Assembly Advocate Jacob Mudenda made the startling announcement during a recent sitting, where he admonished legislators for not taking the fund,which is a vehicle for community-led development , seriously.
Adv Mudenda had to make an impassioned supplication to party whips to cajole their caucuses into applying for the funding.
“Members, it has been brought to my attention that although we are now in the third quarter of our ninth session, only 68 members have applied for the 2020 Constituency Development Fund (CDF),” said Adv Mudenda.
“Statistics show that 142 members have not applied for the year 2020; 67 Honourable Members did not apply for the 2019 allocations and 20 did not apply for the 2018 allocation.”
He said while the money appropriated for the programme for the current financial year may have been whittled down by inflation, this was no reason for legislators to completely ignore the fund.
“The money can be put to good use in the constituencies that you represent especially now during Covid-19, the period when schools and clinics are in need of PPE, sanitisers, extra chairs and desks”.
He added: “May I request the Whips to assist in following up on the Honourable Members of their political parties.”
The CDF was first introduced in 2010 primarily as a development vehicle through which communities are in charge of small and high-impact projects that affect their daily lives.
The fund would bypass central bureaucracies and channel funding to community level to improve people’s livelihoods.
The first CDF allotment of US$8 million meant each constituency would receive US$50 000 to fund community-level projects such as road repairs, construction of dip tanks, libraries, refurbishment of schools
and clinics and local income-generating projects.
The programme soon ran into choppy waters amid allegations of impropriety by some legislators as well as budgetary constraints.
No sooner had the Fund been introduced than cases of pillaging were awash in the press. Four Parliamentarians were arrested by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) to face charges of corruption and abuse of public funds.
The four MPs, Albert Mhlanga (MDC-T Pumula), Marvellous Khumalo (MDC-T St Mary’s), Cleopas Machacha (MDC-T Kariba) and Franco Ndambakuwa (ZANU PF – Magunje), were later released on the grounds that there was no proper legal framework to successfully prosecute them.
In 2014, it was reported that some 20 legislators were being investigated for allegedly using CDF money to purchase personal assets such as motor vehicles and motorbikes.
Over the years the script has been more or less the same, pointing to a structural problem with the programme.
After 10 years, Parliament seems unable to fashion a working formula to make it work.
Critics of the programme have often pointed out prospects of conflict of interest on the part of legislators.
In essence, Parliamentarians’ core business entails making good laws, oversight, and representing the interests of citizens. However, the CDF draws legislators into the role of budget implementation.
This raises the prospect of compromising their oversight function.
We have a case where legislators are implementing the national budget and at the same time playing watchdog over how the Executive implements the very same budget.
The fund has bred the unpleasant consequence of legislators using the CDF benefits in exchange for electoral support, especially during election years.
All this points to something being fundamentally wrong with the way the CDF is being administered. When MPs do not find the incentive to apply for funds for developmental projects in their areas, then something is wrong.
When public funds are diverted to personal use by legislators who later walk away scot-free, then the need for a rethink cannot be overemphasised.
Introduction of the CDF constitution which among other things places stringent requirements for MPs to access the funds and regular audit of books may not be enough.
It proposed some years ago that a CDF Bill could be the panacea to the problem bedevilling management of the fund, but not much has been said of the law for years now.
Other jurisdictions have stringent regulatory measures in place to safeguard the integrity of the fund.
Zambia enacted the CDF Act two years ago, which set up robust management structures, guidelines for approval of projects, auditing mechanisms, service procurement regulations and restrictions on use of funds for non-fund purposes.
In Kenya, a similar law was passed in 2003 which compels the Finance Minister to set aside a portion of the national annual budget for the purposes of localised development, wealth creation and poverty eradication.
Zimbabwe needs similar legislative regulations that compel MPs not only to access the funds but use them for common good and not for political expedience.
We need a law that compels Treasury to set aside funds annually for the purposes of localised development.
Given the push by Government towards devolution and decentralisation, the CDF is a key ingredient for the programme.