Editorial | CDF-type schemes pose dangers
It seems that the lasting legacy of Arnaldo Brown's short parliamentary career is likely to surround his interaction with the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and matters relating thereto.
His first substantial speech in the House, after entering Parliament on a People's National Party (PNP) ticket in the December 2011 election, was to MPs in a circling of the wagons around this dispensary of pork. And four months after his ejection by his East Central St Catherine constituents, Mr Brown is facing questions about outstanding debts he incurred, presumably on the account for the Fund, raising new concerns about the management and oversight of the CDF.
In a way, Arnaldo Brown is a metaphor for what is wrong with the CDF, against whose existence we have campaigned. His re-emergence, though, is timely, coinciding as it does with the recommendation by the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry that the spending of public money be taken out of the hands of MPs, hopefully limiting the flow of state resources to political dons and thus reducing their influence in garrison communities.
While not specifically congruent with the issue raised by the commission, Mr Brown's matter underlines the dangers inherent in schemes like the CDF.
First, this programme is one on whose existence there is clear and absolute bipartisan concurrence and from which any reduction in allocation will quite possibly trigger a revolt against the finance minister. For each year, Parliament votes a sum of money - J$1.3 billion, or a 31 per increase this fiscal year when compared with the previous one - which is divided among MPs for spending in their constituencies. On the current Budget, each MP is allocated J$20 million.
MPs like the scheme, for it allows them to spend money and to talk about it as though they are using personal, rather than taxpayers', cash. It is a way, too, of extending patronage and maintaining, especially in poor constituencies, the politics of clientelism.
There is presumably a level of peer review and oversight of the CDF by a parliamentary committee, and a unit at the Office of the Prime Minister supposedly vets projects on which MPS plan to spend. The evidence seems to suggest that these don't work very well, as the Arnaldo Brown matter suggests. He apparently ordered stuff on credit from a bookshop, intending to pay from the CDF allocation. But Mr Brown lost the election before that happened and the successor MP is not inclined to have the CDF honour the bills.
"If I had won, this would have been a non-issue," Mr Brown said.
We are sure it would have been. And that is precisely the point. Mr Brown would have ensured the vendor was paid and taxpayers would perhaps not have known about what the head of the CDF Unit called "untidy situations", but from our vantage points appears to be a bypassing of systems, if they exist, of proper accountability. While this time the purchase was books, in another circumstance, unsavoury people could have had an opportunity to siphon state resources.
The west Kingston commissioners, in a bid to prevent this kind of thing happening, proposed that a state fund for use on constituencies, including the CDF, be administered "by a representative board, rather than at the direction of a member of parliament". We believe that this should be in the realm of the public bureaucracy, but could abide by commission's idea.