Tafara Shumba Correspondent—
In his presentation of the pro-recovery 2017 National Budget, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Cde Patrick Chinamasa reintroduced the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).Minister Chinamasa allocated $50 000 for each constituency. He said the resources under the CDF would be allocated under Parliament pending promulgation of necessary legislation to govern the fund.
Paucity of the regulation framework was the reason why the fund was held in abeyance for all these years. Government resolved then, that there would be no disbursement of CDF funds before the law that governs their use was promulgated.
The fund was introduced during the fragile Inclusive Government. The Minister of Finance then, Tendai Biti in his 2010 National Budget, injected $8 million into the fund. Each constituency was allocated $50 000, which was meant to promote and advance socio-economic and cultural rights by ensuring that all the constituencies in Zimbabwe are progressively developed.
The fund was basically aimed at the promotion of community-driven development. It was a noble idea as it was supposed to have complemented other Government development programmes and even of the other development partners such as the non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
However, unscrupulous Members of Parliament took advantage of the regulatory loopholes in the fund to pillage Government resources, which they used for self-aggrandisement. Most of them failed to produce audited accounts, with some disguising donor-funded projects as CDF-funded projects. They bought cars, grinding mills and even got hitched with extra wives using the constituency fund. All this embezzlement was done at the expense of development in the various constituencies.
Twenty extreme cases were identified and four MPs were arrested but were later released after Johannes Tomana, the then Attorney-General, argued that there was no proper legal framework to successfully prosecute them. The four, who were arrested by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) are Albert Mhlanga (MDC-T, Pumula MP), Marvellous Khumalo (MDC-T, St Mary’s), Cleopas Machacha (MDC-T, Kariba) and Franco Ndambakuwa (ZANU-PF, Mangwe). In 2014, Government promised to descend heavily on CDF looters. However, not a single looter has been booked.
It is these circumstances that forced Government to propose a law that regulates the use of CDF. In that regard, a Bill was proposed and it has been on Parliament schedule since 2013. Expectations were that, when the law is enacted, the looters would then be prosecuted. The electorate has been urging Government to confiscate the properties that the MPs fraudulently purchased with the CDF. Even in cases where there is no direct link with CDF, those who failed to account for the money must be made to pay it back or have their properties attached. That will be disincentive enough to would-be looters.
The CDF is a noble fund whose re-introduction was long overdue. However, there is fear that history will repeat itself.
Government must be more careful this time around as the wise elders say, once bitten twice shy. The loopholes that were used to plunder the fund are still not plugged. It was anticipated that the CDF law would pull the plug on the loopholes.
It boggles the mind why that law has been put on hold for such a long time.
Minister Chinamasa said the re-introduction of the CDF was in response to continued demands by MPs to bring it back. Nevertheless, what assurance did he get from the MPs that the fund would be put to good use this time around.
Indeed, there are honest MPs who used the fund for the purposes it was designed for. Certainly they should not be punished because of a few bad apples. The only way that Government could strike a balance is to expedite the enactment of the CDF law.
It is good that the fund is being administered through Parliament. Parliament will do well if it makes sure that the CDF is not accessible to those who did not properly account for the previous funds. There is no guarantee that these MPs will not repeat their devilry. Minister Chinamasa just allocated the funds but did not spell out any means of accountability, which presumably is the responsibility of the administrative authority. The 2018 elections are already on the horizon, thus CDF comes at a very opportune time for the MPs who still want to join the race to represent their constituencies. It is time to make themselves more visible through development projects funded by the CDF. It has come as a rescue for those who had not done anything due to financial constraints.
However, the MPs must not take CDF as a venture for political profession. They must focus on projects that maximise electorate’s welfare rather than their political returns.
The previous CDF institutional structures lacked a participatory, accountable system as it somehow excluded communities. The committees only comprised MPs, Senators and councillors. They must involve the community in identifying their needs rather than impose development on them.
For instance in Chimanimani West Constituency, Mr Munacho Mutezo, ahead of other pressing needs, imposed on the electorate an internet Cafe at Nyanyadzi Business Centre.
In the case of urban constituencies, the MPs must consult with the council so as to avoid duplication of programmes.
Even in rural settings, there is also need to consult the central government and liaise with development organisations in the area so that resources are not expended on duplication. There is also need to train the committees on how to handle the money before distributing it.
In a nutshell, Parliament must play a more serious oversight role on the use of that fund.