Sat | Oct 23, 2021

Juliet Holness backs CDF hike, tighter monitoring

Published:Friday | December 18, 2020 | 12:06 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer

In the wake of a damning report into alleged nepotism involving taxpayer money, Juliet Holness has defended the worth of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) while acknowledging that efficient monitoring and accountability controls must be enforced.

Holness, who chairs the CDF Committee, sought to distance herself from recent pronouncements by the auditor general about a lack of transparency in the administration of funds under the CDF Unit, stating that the audit did not apply to her tenure.

CDF allocations of $20 million are earmarked to each of the 63 members of parliament for redistribution through a slew of community projects spanning a wide range of services including roadworks, disaster aid, education, and charity.

MPs have stoutly defended its effectiveness in the midst of a perceived bumbling bureaucracy, but critics argue that it ties patronage from the public purse to partisan political support.

Holness was declarative in drawing a red line between her committee leadership this parliamentary term, since September, and the tenures of previous chairmen.

“I do not know of any funds being improperly utilised. I know you would have had an audit, and I am sure you will be getting a response both from the CDF [Unit] and also the relevant CDF committee chairman at the time,” Holness said during a handover of care packages on Wednesday to residents in flood-hit communities in her St Andrew East Rural constituency.

A CDF compliance audit by the Auditor General’s Department (AuGD) cited a lack of transparency in its management of the $1.26-billion programme that operates out of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

In a report tabled in Parliament in November, the Auditor General’s Department identified payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars to connected parties to fund postgraduate degree tuition and other school financing.

The report covered the 2015-2016 to 2019-2020 parliamentary years.

Holness, whose constituency spans swathes of hilly terrain, is bullish in her advocacy for an increase in CDF allocations.

The CDF Committee chairman said that checks and balances must be maintained with project agencies like the National Works Agency, the Social Development Commission, or municipal corporations. But Government, she insisted, must not be so enmeshed in red tape that it cannot act.

“You want to make sure that Government is efficient and agile because you don’t want things to be so bureaucratic that you don’t get things done,” she told The Gleaner.

“But equally, you have to make sure that at all times, all transactions are above board, that persons are knowledgeable and that they follow the rules.”

However, accountability campaigner Jeanette Calder argues that before MPs clamour for more CDF allocations to surpass the current $20-million cap, they should fulfil their mandate for transparency in expenditure.

Calder, executive director of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal, said her watchdog has been pursuing a breakdown from all 63 MPs on how they have spent their $20-million tranche. Of the 63 MPs, only six have responded, said Calder. They are Julian Robinson, Peter Bunting, and Phillip Paulwell of the People’s National Party and Floyd Green, Marlene Malahoo Forte, and Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn of the Jamaica Labour Party.

“There are some things required of our MPs. If we have MPs in breach of that policy, then the people of Jamaica wouldn’t want to agree to allocating more funds if our parliamentarians have not been compliant,” Calder said.

She is pushing for MPs to fulfil the requirement to meet with their constituents to discuss and identify projects. The policy also says that projects ought not to be approved if those strictures are not observed, Calder charged.