Gordon Robinson, Contributor
The religious fervour with which veteran and rookie parliamentarians alike have rushed to categorise themselves education-conscious Constituency Development Fund (CDF) spenders would be hilarious, were it not so pathetic.
Around July, the story that young Damion Crawford was breaking party ranks in East Rural St Andrew by refusing to use his CDF funds to continue the 'runnings' made headlines. He insisted education and infrastructure were his priorities. Constituents were seen on TV demanding Crawford give them money or resign.
Even his own councillors joined in, one complaining bitterly that he woke up one morning to find a road had been repaired in his division. Yes, you read right. He complained that a road was repaired. He offered no critique of the need for; quality, or effectiveness of the repairs but was offended that nobody had first consulted with him.
Why? Consult about what? Is it that the choice of contractor is more important than getting the work done? Surely not? That would be corruption.
Since then, MPs have been coming out of the woodwork, trying to force themselves under Damion's halo, claiming they also spend on education. People's National Party (PNP) MPs, in particular, have been at pains to point out the problem is the manner of communication, not the spending. Why, they innocently simper, we all spend on education:
"Raise yu han' if you want to be sanctified."
But this isn't new. Constituents' ingrained view of their MPs as godfathers who must 'let off' wasn't formed over time because MPs prioritised developmental spending over 'running wid it'. Damion isn't the first well-intentioned MP to have his aspirations of principled representation squashed by an ancient, entrenched system of corruption. Social and Economic Support Programmes or CDF, by any name, smells as stink.
On June 6, 2000, PNP North East St Ann MP Danny Melville's Sectoral Debate contribution turned out to be a historic farewell speech.
With your permission ... , I'd like to address my constituents directly.
In our nation's history, we have evolved to a point where we must begin to distinguish between the roles of government and ourselves as individuals or groups. Too often Government is seen as Almighty Provider ... who owes his subjects everything and rules them with an iron hand. The Great Provider is ... blamed for every ill, even for things we should be correcting ourselves ... .
Too often the member of parliament for an area is simply targeted as the 'corner don', who must provide handouts, and I believe this is totally counterproductive. In my case, it has threatened to stifle every enthusiasm and creative idea with which I had approached the job in 1997 ... ."
Where, oh where, did Danny Melville get the idea, 12 years ago, that an MP is considered 'corner don' and forced to provide 'handouts'? Did he make it up? It didn't take the PNP long to run Danny Melville out of politics; out of town; and out of country. While standing for too much political principle, he stood on too many political corns. While his colleague MPs herded together, smiling beatifically while claiming political salvation, he was made to appear delusional.
"Children, children, run to the river.
I want to born again, I want to feel brand new.
And then one by one mek we jump inna de water.
Mek we feel dis ya healing passing through.
I gonna throw away de car and jewellery; no video; no colour TV.
De only ting that can mek me free
is to praise de name of de Almighty."
As Damion, taking the baton from Danny, finds a political baptism of fire, it's happening again. His own colleagues, suddenly born-again principled spenders, are becoming his worst enemies. OMG! Why didn't he consult 'the people'? He's too 'dictatorial'. One political mouthpiece-cum-talk show host actually compared Damion to Hitler and Pol Pot.
Which 'people' ought Damion to have consulted? The same people who want a voucher, a drink or old-time 'runnings'? Those fellow MPs playing musical chairs under his perceived halo while applauding their own superior communication skills? Councillors who don't want roads repaired unless they know of it beforehand? All want identical results: more of the same old, same old. No matter how you shuffle the deck, Chalice has it right.
"One, 'im is a warden; two 'im is a priest;
three 'im is a sinner with de mark of de beast;
four 'im is a lawyer; five 'im is a doctor;
six 'im is a prisoner; seven 'im is a t'ief;
Me say, woee-ee-ooee!"
I believe Damion should stick to his guns. It'll mean he'll almost certainly join Danny Melville in political obscurity, but he'll have struck one more blow for decency in public office. Eventually, the change will come.
The required change is CDF abolition; the removal of MPs from the process of public spending; the separation of the functions of minister and MP; and the return of MPs to their core function as people's representatives.
In my opinion, the CDF is unconstitutional. MPs have only one constitutional function:
"48. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Jamaica."
As MP, one makes representations on behalf of constituents; monitors the budgetary process in Parliament; and votes on the Appropriation Bill. Nothing in any law permits an MP any involvement in public spending. The Constitution provides:
"117. (1) No sum shall be paid out of the Consolidated Fund except upon the authority of a warrant under the hand of the minister responsible for finance.
(2) ... No such warrant shall be issued except in respect of sums granted for the specified public services by the Appropriation law ... ."
The Constitution is pellucid that, save for specified exceptions (irrelevant to this discussion), Consolidated Fund resources MUST be spent on "specified public services" through the warrant process.
MPs, in the throes of hypocritical CDF support, insist they don't actually spend any money.
"According to PNP Deputy General Secretary Julian Robinson, it's important to point out that MPs have no personal access to [CDF] funds.
"A project proposal has to be developed Continued from F4
by the MP and submitted to the CDF Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister," said Robinson.
"After the project is vetted and approved by the CDF office, it's sent to the parliamentary CDF Committee for approval. In all cases where payments are made, these are done directly to the institutions that provide goods or services. No money passing through the hands of the MP," he wrote in a letter. (Gleaner, September 17, 2012)
Really, Julian? That's the best you could come up with? If the MP's not spending the money, who is? The CDF Unit? Who are they? Which projects did they conceive? What's its constitutional authority to sit in the PM's office "vetting" and "approving" public spending? Is it the parliamentary CDF Committee? What's its constitutional authority to spend public funds? "No money passing through the hands of the MP"? That's unworthy of your intellect, Julian, and just plain disingenuous. If not MPs, who?
Be careful, Julian. You're entitled to your ambitions, but if you think you're going to ride the party loyalty train all the way to Jamaica House in today's Jamaica, you're sadly mistaken. Remember, even Portia took her toe off the party line in support of our fire services. Despite all this obfuscatory additional bureaucracy (CDF Unit; parliamentary CDF Committee), are you really saying CDF funds aren't, in reality, spent by MPs? If you are, please explain the following from September 18's Gleaner, especially the quote attributed to you:
Julian Robinson, who ... was listed as spending $3.1 million on education, is claiming he has spent more than twice what is reflected in the data from the CDF unit.
Robinson said a significant amount spent on specific programmes was not included in the data, and subsequently released ... an amended list he said was from the CDF Unit and reports his spend on education at $6.1 million.
"The fund does not include other educational items such as summer education initiatives by some MPs ...," he said.
"I hosted a summer reading camp where more than 1,000 students from ... the constituency participated. I've also provided assistance for students in meeting their education-related fees at primary, high and tertiary levels."
However, when The Gleaner questioned Robinson further about the discrepancies between the figures included in the document he provided and that provided directly to The Gleaner by the CDF unit, he admitted that the funds identified in his document included projects to be brought before Parliament's CDF Committee today."
Which is it, Julian? Who's spending the public's money? You seem to be spending it before the CDF Unit knows. Are the unit/parliamentary committee bureaucratic rubber stamps for MPs?
Pay attention, Julian. There might be an exam. Kindly explain how you allege CDF 'projects' are lawful. Do they fit the constitutional category "sums granted for specified public services by the Appropriation Law"? For example, school fees are abolished but Reverend Ronnie encourages parents to pay "auxiliary fees" from their own pockets. When you "provide assistance for students in meeting their education-related fees at primary, high and tertiary levels", are you spending public funds on "specified public services" or are you illegally and arbitrarily increasing budgetary allocations to education on a discriminatory basis? What "specified public services" are you providing? To whom? Does the auditor general have a role in CDF expenditures?
Suppose MPs surrender to constituents' demands for 'vouchers' or 'runnings money' from the CDF. What would be their constitutional authority? Are all, or any, CDF resources spent on "specified public services"? Like what?
Whether it's spent before or after 'consultation' with constituents/councillors, this politically expedient fund is illegal, unconstitutional and inherently corrupt. None of those praising themselves for 'spending' on education are exhibiting any grasp of the principles governing public expenditure. The creators of this blatantly political slush fund oughtn't to hold public office. Only the constitutional executive can legally spend public funds, and only for "specified public services".
Neither the CDF nor its "approved projects" are "specified public services", properly so called. Any attempt to so categorise either would be unconstitutional and an illegal method of circumventing MPs' constitutional limits to permit their involvement in public spending.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.