The welfare of Members of Parliament took centre stage in one of the plenary sessions in the National Assembly last week. Frustrated by what they see as unfair treatment compared to their counterparts in the Executive, MPs across the political divide demonstrated unity of purpose in demanding an improvement in their conditions of service.
Although it is common knowledge that the national coffers are empty, the lawmakers have a right to raise these issues, especially when we continue to witness lavish spending in some less priority areas such as international travel by officials from other agencies of the State and government. The Constitution in section 325 (1) requires government to ensure that adequate funds are provided to Parliament to enable it and its committees to meet whenever is necessary. This provision must be fulfilled because it is a constitutional requirement.
The MPs must, however, fulfil their constitutional mandate of protecting the Constitution and promoting democratic governance in Zimbabwe in order to justify demands for improved conditions of service. The Legislature has the constitutional authority to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Zimbabwe (Section 117). The performance of Parliament on this front has been poor, thereby fuelling the negative public sentiment about MPs.
Related to the issue of their salaries and allowances, the lawmakers are angry that promises made to establish a properly regulated Constituency Development Fund (CDF) have not been honoured. The CDF was last operational during the inclusive government when the then Finance Minister Tendai Biti allocated $50 000 to each MP to finance development projects in their constituencies. There were reports that some of the MPs mismanaged the funds, thereby fuelling the generally negative public view of lawmakers.
The government then decided to come up with an appropriate policy and legal framework for the CDF. President Robert Mugabe went on to list the CDF Bill as one of the bills that was going to come before Parliament when he officially opened the First Session of the 8th Parliament on September 16 2013. However, two-and-a-half years down the line the Bill is still to see the light of day.
There are some who argue that managing a CDF is not the core business of MPs, and that their primary responsibility is to make good law, oversee the actions of the Executive in public policy implementation and reach out to citizens in order to represent their interests in the law-making process.
While I cannot argue against this view, the reality on the ground is that the electorate expect their elected representatives to spearhead development in their constituencies. Sadly, the situation in this part of the world characterised by joblessness and grinding poverty, means the MP cannot shy away from these responsibilities. Doing so can mark the end of one’s political career. This is why the CDF becomes very important as a tool to deliver on the expectations of the electorate.
Proper systems, policies and regulations are needed for the CDF to achieve the intended objectives. The experiences of other countries would help in that regard. Kenya is considered one of the good examples on the management of the CDF.
The Kenyan CDF was established through the CDF Act of 2003. It is one of several devolved funds aimed at mitigating poverty at grassroots level. The same Act established an independent CDF Board to manage the Fund. Other management structures in Kenya include a Constituency Development Fund Committee chaired by the constituency MP and a Project Management Committee selected by the community to manage the funds. The CDF Board has staff at constituency level in charge of preparing books of accounts and submitting other operational and financial reports to the Board.
This staff member is an ex-officio member of the Constituency Development Fund Committee.
Government district accountants are mandatory signatories to the constituency CDF accounts. This goes a long way in providing the necessary checks and balances.
In Kenya, all the constituencies receive an equal share and then receive an additional allocation based on the constituency poverty index modelled by the Ministry of Planning. So the emphasis of the CDF is on poverty alleviation and not lining up an individual’s pockets. Funds are only released by Treasury upon the submission of viable or bankable business proposals.
It has, however, not been plain sailing in Kenya. The CDF Board regularly publishes best and worst users of the CDF kitty for public accountability purposes. The Board also works closely with the Anti- Corruption Commission and Criminal Investigations Department to prosecute those caught on the wrong side of the law.
In Namibia, a Constituency Development Fund Bill was introduced in the National Council (upper house) in 2015 to establish the CDF and a CDF Board. The fund will be administered by the chief regional officer under the direction of a board comprising all regional councillors of all constituencies.
In Malawi, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development developed guidelines for the administration of the CDF. The CDF guidelines cover project identification, procurement, and maintenance of accounts/cashbooks for the projects, among other issues. The guidelines identify the district commissioner/chief executive officer, where applicable, as a controlling officer. The controlling officer is required to ensure that any procurement carried out using the CDF should comply with the Public Procurement Act, 2003, while the use of public funds should generally be in compliance with the Public Finance Management Act, 2003.
Zambia established a CDF in 1995 to support micro-community projects in constituencies, as part of a wider decentralisation and local development policy. The Ministry of Local Government and Housing receives the funds from the Ministry of Finance and allocates them to the respective councils. All councils are mandated to include CDF in their annual capital budgets, and are required to account for such funds in accordance with the law.
What is clear from these examples is that appropriate government structures at constituency level must be established to manage the CDF. The local Member of Parliament is not a dominant figure in the administration of the CDF but the local authorities. These are good lessons for Zimbabwe as we put in place a policy and legal framework for the CDF.
l John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust. Feedback: email@example.com