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EDITORIAL - Another case against CDF pork

Published:Tuesday | October 19, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The case of Natalie Neita-Headley, reported by this newspaper on Sunday, nearly two years after the fact, further vindicates our demand for a scrapping of the bi-partisan trough known as the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and highlights why MPs preferred to drool over its swill in secret.

Thankfully, the parliamentarians, in the face of our persistence, relented last week and promised to open to the public, in the future, meetings of their committee that reviews projects financed by the CDF.

Perhaps we can now get the administration to end the CDF, but we wouldn't bet on it. When it comes to the administration and distribution of pork and the taxpayers' expense, politicians don't surrender lightly. It is one of the few things on which they gather in common cause across the divide.

The issue with regard to Mrs Neita-Headley, the People's National Party (PNP) member for East Central St Catherine, is an example of this unity.

The CDF, instituted by the Golding administration in its 2008-2009 Budget, is really the former administration's Social Economic Support Programme - only with more money. Of course, the bureaucrats who oversee it like to tell themselves, and attempt to persuade the public, that it has greater accountability. There is that chimera. Ostensibly, projects financed by the CDF - MPs have $1.2 billion available to them in the current fiscal year, half the amount of the previous year, but only because of the Government's fiscal crisis - have first to be reviewed and approved by officials in a unit of the Office of the Prime Minister. It is claimed that no spending can take place ahead of this approval.

Well, Mrs Neita-Headley, according to the minutes of a meeting of the parliamentary committee on the CDF that have belated wiggled their way to openness, didn't take this route.

She, apparently, would have had $300,000 available from her initial constituency allocation which, we reckon, would, in the budget cycle, have been $4 million. Yet, she commissioned the repair of roads in her constituency that cost $1 million more than she had available.

Mrs Neita-Headley, as suggested by the minutes from the then secret meeting of the parliamentary committee, claimed she made an error. She sought retroactive approval for her decision.

Who was granted the contract?

What is not clear is who was granted the contract(s), whether he/they were on the National Contracts Commission's (NCC) register of approved contractors and on what authority would someone accept an MPs say-so as a binding agreement that he/she will be paid withgovernment/taxpayer money, even if a service was delivered. This contractor apparently was sanguine that he/she would be paid.

To be fair, the committee did appear to cause Mrs Neita-Headley some amount of unease - one member suggested that she seek guidance from the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) on how to proceed. In the end, though, she got her retroactive approval which, we believe, was never in doubt. One doesn't let the species down on a matter of pork.

What is significant from the minutes of the proceedings is how sternly Mrs Neita-Headley resisted the matter reaching the OCG, preferring, if it came to it, to reimburse the Government from her own pocket: a declaration of the power of transparency and holding people to account.The bottom line: the money over which politicians now lord should revert to appropriate government agencies with clear accountability.

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