Mon | Apr 6, 2020

Editorial | The real problem is the CDF

Published:Tuesday | May 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The People's National Party (PNP) is focused on the wrong thing - on effect and outcomes, rather than fundamental cause. The problem is the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) itself, rather than who heads the unit that oversees it.

Unfortunately, it is one of the few schemes around which there is bipartisan consensus. Understandably! It provides a vehicle from which politicians can slosh around taxpayers' money as if it were their own.

The Opposition's concern is that Kedesha Campbell, a personal assistant to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, has been appointed head of the CDF Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister, to replace its long-time boss, Moveta Munroe. Ms Campbell, it is reported, is completing a postgraduate degree, has done courses in management, and has worked in administration in the public and private sectors.

But the PNP does not believe she is qualified for the job, supposedly because neither her training nor experience represents the "balance required to lead a unit such as the CDF, which entails the handling of projects of various descriptions, submitted by members of parliament from both sides of political divide".

That is an interpretation of Ms Campbell's skills for which the PNP has offered no evidence and is open to debate. They would be on far more secure ground, however, if, as they suggested, Ms Campbell was parachuted into the job without it being advertised, or without other rules for the engagement of public-sector staff being observed.

That claim, if true, goes to the heart of fairness and transparency, which this, and any, administration should take seriously in the face of increasing insistence among Jamaicans that Government eschew corruption in all its forms, including nepotistic appointments to the public sector. Nonetheless, past or current "affiliation and allegiance" to a political party oughtn't, a priori, disqualify a person from a government post, including as manager of the CDF Unit. This presumption of a conflict of interest has to be grounded in more than a feeling from the gut. It should be informed by past behaviour.

In that regard, the PNP should provide further and better particulars to create a substantive case of why Ms Campbell isn't up to, and shouldn't have, the job. Maybe that case exists, but it wasn't made.

In the meantime, the PNP would do something far more profound and important for Jamaicans if it launched, and sustained, a campaign to dismantle the CDF, a programme under which parliamentarians are each allocated close to J$20 million each during every Budget cycle, ostensibly with oversight from the unit that Ms Campbell now heads, but largely at their discretion. That's near J$1.3 billion between them.


CDF predicated on access


The philosophy upon which the CDF was cobbled is that parliamentarians should have access to resources with which to directly respond to issues in their constituencies, including social-welfare intervention, without reliance on state agencies and the need for rigorous interface with the public bureaucracy.

Politicians love this yarn and its outcome - the feel of political pork reaming through their fingers, of which they dole out dollops as though it were personal beneficence rather than an incursion into the pockets of taxpayers.

The problem, put differently, is that schemes like the CDF perpetrate - and perpetuate - the politics of patronage. It undermines the development of strong, efficient and accountable state frameworks. It facilitates workarounds, including the need to make strong, cogent cases for the allocation of public resources. And that is the kind of environment in which bad governance and, ultimately, corruption, thrive.

Yet, as with anything in which political pork is on offer, it is supported from either side.