Robert Wynter, Contributor
Damion Crawford is a young, rookie MP who, not long ago as president of the People's National Party Youth Organisation (PNPYO), criticised his own party whenever he believed it acted against the best interests of the majority of Jamaicans. He did so with aplomb, without fear and with a deep sense of compassion.
Having concluded that the State had failed in providing for the educational needs of constituents of East Rural St Andrew, Mr Crawford has decided to use his Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to correct the situation. In doing so, he has been criticised by his own supporters, while being hesitantly supported by other MPs on both sides.
The $15-million annual allotment to each parliamentarian is a drop in the bucket when compared to the more than $1 billion average per constituency of the Ministry of Education's budget. In reality, therefore, while easing the difficulties of a few, Mr Crawford will never redress the education shortcomings in the next 100 years with the pittance provided through the CDF.
ROLE OF MP CORRUPTED BY CDF
Section 49, Subsection 1 of the Jamaican Constitution clearly outlines the principal role of the MP: "Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Jamaica." In other words, an MP is expected to represent his/her constituents in Parliament to improve peace, order and good government.
Instead, our government MPs give unwavering support to Cabinet ministers, while opposition MPs oppose, in large part, for opposing sake - MPs Warmington and Thwaites are the notable exceptions that tackle the status quo, albeit with slightly different modus operandi.
Of greater importance than peace, order and good government to Cabinet ministers, government backbenchers and opposition MPs is the desire to either retain or to regain power at the next election. Having failed in Parliament, our MPs have resorted to being busy in their respective constituency. After all, very few constituents will pay attention to, let alone appreciate, any speech, vote or other means within Parliament to influence law, order and good government.
However, handing out books, getting a road repaired, donating to an indigent person will generate massive amounts of publicity within the constituency as well as by the national media. With MP's eyes fixed squarely on the next election, it is a no-brainer that significantly more effort will be placed within the constituency than within the hallowed halls of Gordon House.
The CDF, while appearing to be sympathetic to the masses of the people, is nothing more than an instrument to exacerbate the already corrupted role of the MP.
VAZ MISSES THE POINT
In the September 23, 2012 issue of The Sunday Gleaner, West Portland MP Daryl Vaz penned an article titled 'Education with representation', defending the virtues of the CDF. Having been ruffled by several Gleaner editorials, Mr Vaz has challenged the newspaper to a public debate on the CDF. I am quite sure that both Chairman Oliver Clarke and Editor-in-Chief Garfield Grandison are capable of handling themselves well in a debate with Mr Vaz.
I would be hesitant to do so, as I do not have the patience of the Manatt enquiry lawyers who, while questioning the then witness information spokesman Mr Vaz, was told: "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know."
Mr Vaz went to great lengths in his article last Sunday to explain that the CDF funds go to good use, stating: "The CDF is managed and operated in a transparent manner, with the necessary checks and balances that can be accessed. I repeat my offer to allow access to all my CDF transactions over the last four years to be scrutinised and audited by any group or body ... ."
It is here that Mr Vaz apparently seems to miss the point completely. Critics of the CDF such as The Gleaner and me are not suggesting that said funds are not put to good use. Rather, with a choice between fixing the broken organs of the State and handing funds to MP's precisely because these State organs are broken, Mr Vaz apparently prefers the latter, without correcting the former.
While Mr Vaz boasts that he spent $3 million from the CDF on education so far this year, can Mr Vaz give account of the performance of schools in West Portland for which he has appointed members of school boards? Can Mr Vaz also tell us of his record in Parliament in tackling either former Education Minister Andrew Holness or current Education Minister Ronald Thwaites?
In his article, Mr Vaz tells us: "After all, if 63 legislators of billions of dollars cannot access for their constituency $15 million each - $945 million in total - and not be grudged ... ." Mr Vaz and his merry band of parliamentarians seem quite willing to defend the nearly $1 billion in CDF; however, they do not seem as willing to defend the Central Government's expenditure of some $400 billion over which the MPs legislate.
Can MP Vaz tell us whether we are getting value for money? Can he explain why our economy has been anaemic, our education and health systems underperforming? Were Mr Vaz and his MP colleagues as careful with the entire Central Government expenditure as they appear to be with their respective CDFs, Jamaica would be much closer to being the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
CDF AS STOPGAP
Many persons argue that until the organs of State are in better working condition, the CDF provides a temporary safety net of sorts. My challenge is that our parliamentarians, who feel emasculated in their substantive roles to make laws for peace, order and good government of Jamaica, will treat the CDF as permanent and its expenditure as their real reason for representation.
I encourage young Damion Crawford to study the Constitution to remind himself of the MP's purpose. He should view his CDF expenditure as a stopgap, supplementary measure, while advocating through Parliament for the vastly improved performance of the education system which can drive that transformation.
Our Parliament should set a timeline between now and 2030, the deadline of Jamaica's development vision, to disband the CDF to coincide with the vastly improved performance of government. Then, and only then, will parliamentarians shift their focus from being purveyors of scraps to the poor to being hosts that invite all Jamaicans to eat at the table of peace and prosperity.
Robert Wynter is managing director of Strategic Alignment Limited. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.