The Zimbabwe Constituency Development Fund – Much ado about nothing!

25 Feb

In recent weeks there has been a lot of hullabaloo in the local press and political circles around the alleged misuse of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) by some Members of Parliament. There is no doubt that during the conceptualization of this fund, the policy makers had Zimbabwe’s people and development at heart. This is highly commendable. However, there are a number of issues that I believe were overseen by the policy makers which would have and still make the CDF a – “much ado about nothing”. Honestly, I think the alleged misuse was to be expected and people should not have expected much from the management of these funds by the MPs. My argument precisely being that this animal – the CDF – must not have been created or availed to the MPs in the first place. I have a myriad of reasons to support my stance.

In the first instance, it is quite clear that the Parliament of Zimbabwe and any legislative body has a number of roles which include making law primarily. Other roles such as overseeing the work of the executive, budgetary functions and representing the views of the constituents in Parliament are quite essential. If one were to carry out an audit of the legislative work that has been done by the current Parliament of Zimbabwe to this day, it would show that not much has been done bar the rigors of the constitution making process and the difficult nature of the beast called the Inclusive Government. It then baffles the mind, why the legislature would be given such a laborious and difficult task considering that they are failing to deliver in many aspects of their work.

Secondly, though I stand to be corrected, I believe that the CDF created a conundrum wherein the legislature took over and wrongly assumed an executive role. The fact that the CDF and Parliamentarians are supposed to carry out developmental work is not in doubt. However, the question that begs answers is that Central Government through its ministries has allocations for developmental work. For example the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare manages the Basic Education Assistance Module meant for poor children who need assistance to pay for their tuition. The Ministry of Education has a role to manage schools and make sure that schools’ needs are catered for. Furthermore, a number of donor organizations such as Oxfam have been drilling boreholes in rural and urban areas. So, if there are clear roles for such ministries and civil society groups to carry out this developmental work why was there a need to create this parallel structure?

Others have argued that this structure was meant to evade and or avoid central government bureaucracy. This argument is not convincing enough as it only indicts Central Government to wake up, rise and deal with its lack of management skills. Government bureaucracy cannot be viewed as a beast that is there to stay and cannot be dealt with decisively. In fact it is a disease that government needs to get rid of and pronto for that matter.

The CDF in its nature looks as if it’s a project that was meant to boost the images of MPs in their constituencies and to endear the legislators to the people and not so much about development. Maybe it should have been called the Political Affairs Development Fund. Honestly, it is not clear how a meager $50 000 per constituency will be able to deal with the myriad problems that Zimbabwe and its people are facing. Others have argued that this is a clear case of good devolution mechanisms but in all honesty, this cannot be true. What are the structures that ensure this, how do the constituents present their views to the MP, who chooses what program to implement, who does the procurement, what measures are put in place to ensure that the MP or his cronies do not create their own companies to supply products, how will the evaluation of the projects be done, if there are complaints how will they be dealt with. All this to my understanding is not and has not been made clear to the MPs, constituencies and even to Government itself leading to a vacuum which can and has now allegedly been abused by the MPs.

The current court cases against some of the MPs are a charade which is a mere wastage of taxpayers’ money and will not go anywhere far in terms of getting accountability for the funds. This is because the rules of the game were never made clear from the beginning. I can imagine what some of the MPs will plead in court. It is even hilarious to even think that any of them will be found wanting, judging from the fact that they have already allegedly started “manufacturing” receipts and alibis.

The worthiness of the $50 000 fund is quite relative to the problems in a given constituency. Some constituencies will find this money quite helpful to fix their children’s school chairs and desks, and other constituents whose areas have had no water for ages will gratefully accept this money to drill boreholes and so on. On the contrary, others who have bigger problems will think this as a scoff from government because the money will just be a drop in the ocean considering the extent of their economic and social problems. However, for government to hood wink people and say that this money is meant for development, employment creation and so on is just not serious!

Way forward

The question that needs answers now is what to do with the MPs who have allegedly been found wanting. There has been talk around town that the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Eric Matinenga  is allegedly practicing a scorched earth policy wherein he wants to bring down anyone who is found on his wrong side as he exits politics back to his noble profession. Others have argued that he wants to leave politics with a bang and a lasting legacy that he was an apt leader who would not tolerate corruption. If this were true, the idea of instilling a corruption free government by the Minister remains a noble one and he must be commended.

At a political level however, the Minister’s strategy could backfire as I do not see anything to be gained by the MDC by eating its own children in this manner. The dead silence by ZANU PF on this matter is telling of a party that does not want to be embroiled in unnecessary nonsense although it is well known by all and sundry that they cannot be trusted when their hands are allowed into the pot.

I cannot fathom a situation where someone like Lucia Matibenga or Sekai Holland could “chow” public funds and be corrupt. I just cannot believe it. Others have argued that “munhu haarambirwe – that people can never be trusted or vouched for. I beg to differ. The alleged abusers of these funds must be given a chance to explain themselves first. This strategy will only serve to destabilize the MDC T and even ZANU PF further and leave a number of MPs scathed unnecessarily. People can also ask whether such talk is advocacy for corruption and impunity. Clearly not, I say. However, I think these matters can be resolved in other ways other than seeking judicial remedies. The Minister obviously has nothing to lose whichever course he takes. However, the Minister needs to engage the fingered MPs and their constituents and come up with a solution that will not leave egg on anyone’s face. For the political parties who have been fingered especially the MDC T, for it being a “peoples’ party” it needs to go to Harvest House, sit down with its MPs and get its house and papers (receipts, vouchers, etc) in order and present these to Minister Matinenga in due course!

There are a number of countries such as Kenya which have taken up this model of the CDF since 2003. The Kenya CDF policy has had its ups and downs but I do not think that Zimbabwe is ready for such a process yet. In the final analysis, it would be more beneficial to have these funds allocated to central bodies in the various ministries and have constituents led by committees  comprising the MPs, councilors and other local leaders represent their needs to such bodies. Without this, what will we have next – Senators asking for their own Senatorial Development Fund, Councilors asking for their own Council Development Funds and Chiefs asking for their own Traditional Leaders Development Funds?

This policy needs to be stopped immediately and reviewed. Those who have been indicted before the courts or have been asked by the Minister must just account properly at the end of the day. There is no need for arrogance or thinking that this is about witch hunting. “If people ate the money they must just account for it”. We do not want to have the nonsense of President  Zuma’s Spokesperson Mac Maharaj, who when he was asked by the media if he had received bribes from Shabir Schaik and some of his associates in the arms deal scandal in South Africa he kept arguing that the media was infringing his privacy and would sue but kept refusing to answer the simple question on whether he had received the money or not. While the idea remains great and noble, the Parliament of Zimbabwe and its members will not be the best channel to use these funds.

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