How the Constituency Development Fund has redefined the MP

A projects sign
A project sign (Photo credit: Octavian Dan)

If you’re going to run a constituency as effectively as I have run East Central Saint Catherine, you need a good administrator.” As he made his case before the Constituency Development Fund Committee, Alando Terrelonge, the Member of Parliament (MP) for the aforementioned constituency, revealed a subtle change that has taken place in the way that our MPs view themselves. While they may still see themselves as lawmakers and representatives of their constituents to the central government, they have also come to view themselves as governors and administrators of their small slice of Jamaica. The public has largely bought into this view, and it isn’t surprising that citizens have come to see their MPs as potential sources of social support and funding. Even caretakers (opposition candidates expected to contest the constituency in the next election) have found it necessary to provide social relief programmes or repair roads in their community.

Since the creation of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) in 2008, under former prime minister, Bruce Golding, it isn’t hard to see how this evolution of the role of an MP has taken place. At the time, Golding argued that there were many communities in Jamaica that were consistently neglected in the central governments’ budget process – due either to their representatives’ lack of influence in Parliament or the economic realities of the moment. The creation of a pool of funds that MPs could allocate as they saw fit, was a means of remedying this failure. While it may have achieved this goal, it has certainly come at a cost. And that cost is far greater than the $20,000,000 JMD (or approximately $132,000 USD) which each MP is allocated.

Over the years, audits have shown glaring faults in the integrity of the CDF system. In one case, the auditor-general found that $2.5 million that had been appropriated for educational development purposes, had been used to subsidize the costs of private schooling for 21 constituents. It was found that almost half of that sum was going to one single family – all of whom were relatives of a staff member in the office of that same MP. In another case, a post-graduate intern at the Ministry of Economic Growth, who was actively involved in the implementation of CDF projects, was found to be drawing down from the programme to pay for their schooling. While educational projects are certainly within the scope of uses for CDF funds, the making of direct payments on behalf of a select few individuals, is difficult to justify as a public good. Further, these incidents show how easily funds may be channeled to supporters and used as a means of securing or rewarding loyalty.

Guarding against instances like these carries its own costs. By right, each of Jamaica’s 63 constituencies requires a monitoring officer, who ensures that CDF funds are disbursed and that projects are implemented according to the legislated rules and regulations. In 2020, one audit found that six constituencies were entirely without a monitoring officer. Of those constituencies with monitoring staff, almost half were not delivering monthly reports, as they are statutorily required to do.

Given the fact that many MPs are mirroring the functions of their local governments, it begs the question – why are these supplementary funds not simply distributed to the municipal corporations? There’s been little academic evidence to support the notion that this duplication of both administrative and audit functions leads to more progressive distributions or better service delivery. However, the staffing requirements show that it is clearly more costly to divide between the central and local government, and separately monitor and implement projects.

The financial costs aside, there are also institutional values that are corroded by this mode of public funding. In Kenya, where a CDF has been in place even longer than in Jamaica, one court declared that it was “against the principle of the separation of powers for MPs to take part in spending, then submit annual estimates to themselves in Parliament.” Yet, this is precisely what our CDF system does – and the country’s current financial leadership appears to recognize that. The size of the CDF has been gradually decreasing over the years, and while parliamentarians will surely fight its eventual dissolution, the institutions that should be carrying out these tasks will certainly be stronger for it.

Shua McLean (@shuakym) is a Master of Public Affairs student at Princeton University, concentrating in International Development. He writes regularly on issues of public finance, budgeting, and public-sector reform.

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