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EDITORIAL - Seeking ramparts around the CDF trough

Published:Monday | May 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM

There is never a pork barrel in whose grease politicians don't want to slither and around which they do not hope to build ramparts. Ask Daryl Vaz.

For that, essentially, is what the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) parliamentarian for West Portland wants to do with regard to the trough that his fraternity refers to as the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). The title gives the CDF an appearance of serious substance.

Broadly, the CDF is an agreed cross-party raid on the central Government's Consolidated Fund in which a chunk of money is put aside for spending largely at the discretion of MPs, supposedly on projects that uplift their constituencies. The parliamentarians usually talk about their distribution of taxpayers' money via the CDF in first-person, chest-thumping fashion, as though it was from their private resources.

A matter of pigs and mud

Theoretically, CDF projects have oversight from a special government unit at the Office of the Prime Minister and, ultimately, by a parliamentary committee that reviews things. MPs claim that this system, which bypasses the bureaucracy and places the control of resources essentially into the hands of the elected official, works. But we remain conscious of the matter of hungry cats and milk. Or, perhaps more appropriately, pigs and mud.

If there is a good thing about worsened economic stringency of recent times is its effect on the CDF. The finance minister has been forced to cut allocations to constituencies. In the recently tabled Budget, for instance, the allocation is $930 million, or $14.7 million per constituency, down from $20 million in the past fiscal year.

Here comes Mr Vaz. He, like his colleagues on either side of the aisle, is unhappy.

Said Mr Vaz: "Despite the harsh economic realities, I believe the reduction of $5 million per constituency is a sizeable cut, and that it will definitely cause dislocation to the activities and functions of the member of parliament in terms of being able to respond, especially in emergency situations."

Translation: Cuts will limit the ability of MPs to play benefactor and to perpetuate the politics of patronage.

So Mr Vaz hopes to rustle together a cross-party alliance to advocate for more money for the CDF. He has "heard mutterings" of discontent from both sides of the House.

Other recruits

We expect that Mr Vaz will have an early recruit in young Arnaldo Brown, the ruling party's MP for East Central St Catherine, who within three months of his entry into the legislature, before he had addressed any other matter, declared himself an "unapologetic advocate" for more CDF pork.

Another government member, Fitz Jackson, has signalled that he might be another recruit. Backbenchers on both sides, according to Mr Jackson, have been discussing the issue.

In other Parliaments, serious ones, backbench committees debate substantive policy issues. In ours, they scramble to retain the pork, rather than consider ways to create a modern, responsive bureaucracy, capable of delivering services expeditiously and with efficiency. That is what the public-sector reform programme was about.

Dr Peter Phillips, the finance minister, should not entertain the whiners. He should dump the CDF. That logical wish, however, is likely to be in vain. For despite his agenda of fiscal reform, Dr Phillips still exists in a political skin.

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