Editorial | Another grab for CDF pork
If there is one issue on which there is always consensus across party lines, it is proposals for members of parliament (MPs) to be allocated more money through the inappropriately named Constituency Development Fund (CDF). It's hardly surprising, therefore, that the parliamentary committee with oversight for the CDF embraced without a murmur of dissent the suggestion from Opposition People's National Party member, Dayton Campbell, that attempts be made to stick up taxpayers for more cash for the scheme. MPs would be able to spend the money as though it came from their own pockets.
The move, of course, exhibits fundamental flaws in how parliamentarians perceive their jobs and, therefore, how they should go about doing it. This perpetuates a politics of patronage and dependency.
Each MP now has access to the trough for J$15 million, or a total of J$945 million. That sum represents approximately 0.13 per cent of National Budget for the 2017/18 fiscal year.
In the old days, during P. J. Patterson's administration of the 1990s and early 2000s, there was the Social and Economic Support Programme a line item in the Government's budget, which would be periodically raided for parliamentarians to finance projects in their ridings.
This scheme of pork barrel patronage was formalised, entrenched, and made to sound like a high-minded enterprise during Bruce Golding's premiership in the second half of the 2000s. In his flirtation with a presumed new style of politics and the stunted National Democratic Movement, Mr Golding often lamented the inability of MPs to do significant things in their constituencies because, he said, they had no control over government spending, or prioritisation of resources.
His answer was the CDF, which he implemented when the Jamaica Labour Party formed the Government in 2007.
Dr Campbell is a bright, young physician in his second term as the MP for North West St Ann. Like almost everyone who enters parliament, he conflates the role of the MP and social welfare provider. Rather than going to parliament to pass laws to improve the economy for the benefit of all Jamaicans to advocate on behalf of his constituency, he accepts that he has to be personally and literally involved in the delivery of social goods.
MPs like the association as the distribution of benefits helps to entrench them in their seats. But there is a downside, as Dr Campbell has discovered. There is never enough to satisfy demands.
"A lot of persons out there will place at the feet of the member of parliament the responsibility to deliver all the services in the communities and they (MPs) don't have access to the resources to do (so)," Dr Campbell complained. "I think that it is unfair to hold somebody responsible for something that they have not been empowered to do."
He has a point. His solution, however, is flawed. Rather than seek to change people's perception of the role of the MP and get Government to work better in the interest of all, Dr Campbell wants the barrel stuffed with more pork. He then remains the one to decide who gets which sliver.
It is in this context that he suggested and his committee members agreed to ask that the Government revert to Golding's original idea for funding the CDF: an allocation starting at 0.5 per cent of the Budget, graduating, over four years, to 2.5 per cent. With that formula, based on this budget, the CDF would have between J$3.55 billion and $17.75 billion. That would purchase an awful lot of pork. Rather, patronage.
What Dr Campbell should be promoting is the scrapping of the CDF and new approaches to the practice of politics in Jamaica.