Three years since its inception, the fund has become a problem for MPs and a number are calling for it to be scrapped. The MPs are dissatisfied with sh10m, saying it is too little to be a development fund.
BY MARY KARUGABA AND LYDIA NAMUBIRU
THREE years ago, Ugandan legislators hastily passed a proposal to allot themselves sh10m every year as what came to be called constituency development fund (CDF). Today however, the public, civil society and the MPs themselves are not sure CDF was a good idea. Why and what is the way forward?
To understand the dynamics at play, one needs to look at the financial relationship between MPs and the voters. Take this example. Simon Magoola, a resident of Kigulu in Iganga has a problem; all the boreholes in his area have broken down and the roads are impassable. Now, he would like to know, â€œwhat has Milton Muwuma, the area MP done to fix these problems.
Although providing social amenities is not the responsibility of an area legislator, the MP is quick to promise that he will provide the water. â€œI will use part of the CDF to implement this project.â€
Muwumaâ€™s situation is a classic example of an MPâ€™s life. At every opportunity, the electorate will accost them with demands for money, be it fundraising for development projects or individual requests like school fees. The MPs on the other hand are seeking to be in the electorateâ€™s good books and so usually provide the funds. In yesteryears, MP Muwuma would have made the same promise except that then he would have to use his personal resources.
The unsustainablity of that approach is what led, a group of MPs in the seventh Parliament to complain to the President in 2005 that the constituency financial pressures were beyond their â€œpockets.â€ Subsequently, it was agreed that each financial year, each member would be allocated sh10m.
The agreement between the President and MPs was that this money would be used for meeting the financial requests of voters. The proposal sailed through when it was tabled before Parliament, although some members felt it the amount was too small and should have been at least sh50m.
Three years down the road, the fund has become a problem for MPs and a number are calling for it to be scrapped. â€œI donâ€™t want to be associated with it,â€ MP Kassiano Wadri says. â€œThis was political money and, therefore, I donâ€™t like it,â€ MP Odongo Otto adds. Many other legislators support this position.
What is the problem with the money once cherished by members?Â
For MPs, the food burnt in the pot when a parliamentary committee was selected to set guidelines for use and accountability of the money. Despite perception among MPs that the money was to be used for philanthropy, the committee named it the constituency development fund. â€œIt is the name that brought us problems,â€ Wadri says.
â€œAfter failing to find a name for it, they decided to call it development fund yet it was not meant for development,â€ Wadri complains.
Then the same committee, chaired by MP Okullo Epak, laid out guidelines that required MPs to spend the money only on â€œactivities that increase household incomes, interventions that can trigger rural transformation and economic development and on agro-processing in the respective constituencies.â€ Out flew wedding and funeral contributions.
The guidelines also barred MPs from using the money for â€œpolitical and religious activities.â€ What had initially been understood as a philanthropic endowment changed into a development fund that had to be accounted for. Legislators like Wadri feel this is where the problem started. â€œHow do you contribute to a fundraising or give condolences of sh200,000 and ask the people to sign?â€ asks another MP.
More so, MPs are dissatisfied with sh10m, saying it is too little to be a development fund. â€œIt should be increased to a level that makes it meaningful or do away with it,â€ MP David Bahati says. â€œIf divided by the number of people in the constituency, each would end up with a pittance,â€ Wadri supports.
At a more personal level, the MPs say their voters unfairly judge them on how they use the fund and their political opponents are making capital off CDF to criticise them on accountability.
Legislators are not the only ones frustrated with CDF. â€œThe way things are, that money is just going to waste,â€ charges Pauline Apolot, a programme officer with Uganda Debt Network (UDN), a local NGO. UDN disagrees with what they call â€˜weak guidelines that are susceptible to abuse by MPsâ€™ and the fact that the money is deposited on MPs accounts. â€œThe nature in which the CDF is passed on to the Members of Parliament seems to be so informal and susceptible to abuse,â€ states a report by UDN.
Government accountants are not satisfied with CDF either. In its first year, the Auditor General reported that more than sh3b of CDF was never accounted for. Although the Parliament authority subsequently set more stringent accountability rules for the MPs, last year nine of them still did not account for it. That is according to the Parliamentary Scorecard 2007-08, by African Leadership Institute.
More importantly, the communities for which the money was meant are not satisfied either. â€œWhat formula do you use to distribute the constituency development fund?â€ Liraâ€™s dissatisfied Stella Oine, through The New Vision asked her woman MP Rebecca Amuge.
Is scrapping CDF the answer to this discontent? That is what some MPs think. Others like Henry Banyenzaki recommends that the fund be re-routed to the districts and monitored by the MP.
UDN contends that better regulations would solve the problem. â€œIf the regulations are made stronger, CDF is a good thing. It has worked elsewhere like in Kenya,â€ UDNâ€™s Apolot says. In Kenya, the fund is governed by the Constituencies Development Fund Act, 2003, and the Constituencies Development Fund Regulations, 2004. They provide for structures for the prudent governance and administration of the fund. In Uganda, it is governed by guidelines put up by the parliamentary commission. â€œIf they can write and pass good laws to govern CDF, then the MPs can even ask for more money,â€ Apolot advises.
Indeed CDF can be a good thing like Apolot says. Some grassroot development projects will miss out it if scrapped. Those MPsÂ who account for it say the fund supports community projects such as co-operatives and buying farmersâ€™ seeds etc.
MP Kaddumukasa Ssozi of Mityana South says he used the CDF for last year to repair over 20 wells and buy seeds like rice, beans and maize as well as piglets and chicks for farmers in his area.
Margaret Baba Diri, woman MP of Koboko, says she â€œbought and installed the solar system for Koboko Parents Girls SSS at sh3m, distributed simsim seeds worth sh3m, roofed a two-classroom block for Kuluba Millenium community SS at sh2.5m and bought school furniture for Kochi SS at sh2.5m.â€ What will happen to causes like this if CDF is scrapped?
Muhammad Kulumba, a lecturer in the department of Political Science at Makerere University, says the MPs stand to lose if the fund is scrapped. â€œNo matter how small the figure seems, it has been instrumental in enhancing their visibility in the constituencies. IF it is scrapped, they stand to lose,â€ he says.
He argues that in case the members insist that the fund is scrapped; the Government should then channel it through districts as an unconditional grant.
The chairman Uganda People Congress Lira district, Dan Okello, recommends the fund should instead be channelled through the sub-county. Okello noted that some MPs were using the money as vote buying yet this is a fund meant for development. Â
It appears Uganda has come to crossroads on the issue of the Constituency Development Fund. Scrapping it is the path of least resistance, but it would take away the benefits some communities would have gained. However, there are other roads to take. The Government could strengthen regulations that govern CDF, re-route it to districts and/or invest in more effective monitoring of its use.
Should the Constituency Development Fund be scrapped?