Lawmaker questions JLP leader's holding money for seven years
AT LEAST one lawmaker who is a member of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Committee of Parliament has come out swinging against Opposition Leader Andrew Holness for accumulating $8.8 million in CDF funds over seven years before taking steps to implement a zinc fence removal project in his constituency.
St Ann North West Member of Parliament (MP) Dayton Campbell yesterday questioned officials from the CDF Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister as to why Holness was allowed to build up funds at the National Works Agency (NWA) for years before deciding to implement the project at this time. The NWA is the implementing agency.
"To my knowledge, the CDF is not designed to allow [the] funds to accumulate for persons to use at a later date," Campbell said.
Yesterday, the project was approved by the CDF committee amid a raging debate over why it took the MP so long to spend taxpayers' money in his constituency.
waiting a long time
The Gleaner visited Holness' constituency and spoke with some residents in Tower Hill who indicated that some work had been done to remove zinc fences and erect concrete structures.
A resident, Carlton, of Pine Road in Tower Hill, said measurements were done on his fence last year with a view to removing it.
"Dem say dem a guh do a set a fence ya and all now dem nuh do it yet," said Paul Hutchinson, another resident of Tower Hill, Olympic Gardens, who told The Gleaner he had been waiting for some time for his zinc fence to be replaced.
In an emailed response yesterday, communications manager at the NWA Stephen Shaw said: "My information is that based on instructions, a sum has been withheld for works to be done in the area. The funds were originally slated to be used for the construction of a police post in the constituency but were not used."
Asked why the agency had not implemented the project, Shaw said the information he received did not point to a zinc fence removal project in Olympic Gardens or Seivwright Gardens as highlighted in the project.
funds should be returned
Quizzed as to why the project was not implemented in the 2008-2009 financial year when it was first introduced, Moveta Munroe, head of the CDF Unit, said, "The MP did not choose to use the funds at that time."
A senior technocrat in the Ministry of Finance yesterday told The Gleaner that there is a general rule for funds that are unspent and for how they should be treated at the end of a financial year.
According to the ministry official, the general rule is that funds that are unspent by a ministry or department should be returned at the end of the financial year.
The government officer also indicated that if the CDF disbursed funds for a project, it was its responsibility to ensure that the funds are either spent or returned to the Consolidated Fund as required.
This view resonates with that of former prime minister Bruce Golding, under whose leadership the CDF was introduced.
Golding told The Gleaner that the issue of "carrying forward" CDF funding was not considered in the design of the programme.
He argued that by law, Parliament could only vote funds for the stated financial year, and funds not spent automatically revert to the Treasury.
He said, however, that Parliament can include unspent funds from the previous year in its vote for the ensuing year.
"My own thoughts are that if funds are committed to a particular project but have not been drawn down at the end of the financial year, Parliament should give consideration to re-voting the unspent balance for that project, provided that a satisfactory reason is given for the failure to draw down. I say this especially because oftentimes, the delay in executing projects is caused by the delay in releasing the funds resulting from Government's cash flow difficulties," said Golding.
In a Gleaner interview, Munroe said the CDF unit sends a quarterly letter advising MPs about their balances on projects.
"You may have two or three projects with the same implementing agency with balances and these balances accumulate. What we ask the agencies to do is to return that money to OPM (Office of the prime Minister) so that it can be reallocated to the member of parliament and he may want to use it for another project," she said.
Commenting on the specific issue involving Holness' removal of zinc fences project, Munroe said the funds were with the implementing agency for an extended period "and this was where the problem comes in".
She stressed that the MP was fully aware that a balance remained and had accumulated over a period of time. She described Holness' project as a unique case.
Questions were sent to Holness for a comment, but up to news time The Gleaner had not got a response.
- Rasheda Myles contributed to this story