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EDITORIAL - CDF pork at expense of serious programmes

Published:Tuesday | April 13, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Jamaican governments have a talent for getting their priorities in a tangle. They tend to misplace them in favour of political pork and the advancement of personal authority and dependency.

In that regard, you can always count on the governments, with the explicit and brazen support of the Opposition, to protect, in so far as possible, mislabelled schemes like the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and its predecessor, the Social and Economic Support Programme. But with limited and diminishing resources available to our Government, there are clear adverse consequences to such action. Facilitating political pork means that something else gets less.

Take the case of the 2010-11 $503-billion Budget, recently tabled by Finance Minister Audley Shaw and now being debated by Parliament. Mr Shaw, obviously with the backing of his boss, Prime Minister Bruce Golding, allocated $72 million to the Office of the Public Defender, whose job is to seek redress for citizens who believe they have suffered injustice from the Government, its ministries or agencies.

Less allocated this year

That amount is 15 per cent less than the allocation in the past fiscal year - and that is before inflation of around 12 per cent is factored in. Yet, in 2009, the public defender received 846 cases, of which 18 per cent were closed, meaning that 82 per cent, or 687, were pending.

Unless the Government expects a dramatic decline this year in the number of complaints to the public defender, that office will have substantially less money, in nominal and real terms, to undertake a far heavier workload.

Then, there is Greg Christie, the contractor general, who has won plaudits for his courageous efforts at ensuring that the Government's procurement rules are followed and in fighting public-sector corruption. Indeed, the work of Mr Christie's office has landed one MP before the courts and may cause another to follow. His efforts have highlighted several cases where the failure of public servants whose lack of success in following the rules, if not rising to the level of corruption, may have wasted public resources.

e-Learning project

Yet, in the current Budget, Mr Christie's office is allocated $179.1 million, the same as the year before and 12 per cent less than in 2008-2009.The e-Learning project is another case. It provides web-based learning systems to high-school students. Its budget this year is $87.5 million, or 27 per cent lower than in the previous fiscal year.

This is understandable in the context of Jamaica's economic crisis - until, that is, you recall what happened with the CDF, through which MPs are allocated money to spend in their constituencies.

Initially, Mr Shaw set aside $920 million for the CDF, or $15.3 million per MP. But he soon scrambled around to find $300 million for the fund, which will mean that the amount available to each parliamentarian from this pork barrel will increase by $5 million, or the same amount of the previous fiscal year. The additional case would more than cover the shortfalls to the public defender, the contractor general and the e-Learning project.

Clearly, Mr Shaw has misplaced his priorities and will hopefully come to his senses on this matter. He must immediately halt all payments from the CDF and abandon the programme.

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