Nixon Ng’ang’a: Pragmatism should guide take-over of CDF projects

Having significantly influenced Parliamentary elections in last year elections, the Constituencies Development Fund (CDF) has understandably become an important political issue.

At the heart of concern is the management of CDF and especially public perceptions of how the fund has been used. The choice of projects, their location and their cost vis-‡-vis their physical status and assumed utility value have been critical considerations in gauging the credibility of those trusted with its administration.

The face of the latter is invariably the local Member of Parliament. The CDF Act bestows in the MP special responsibilities and privileges over CDF management. She, for instance, has the right to appoint the 15-member committee that manages the day-to-day CDF operations albeit from defined social groups. As the automatic patron and convener of the team, the MP exercises considerable clout in influencing the fund activities.

Electoral millstone

As the last General Election proved, this privilege is a double-edged sword. If appropriately exercised, it may endear the MP to the electorate with the attendant reward of renewed mandate. But as the high casualty figures among the Ninth Parliament suggest, allegations of CDF mismanagement can be an electoral millstone. If the public regards you a poor manager, it will likely say so through the ballot.

Such apprehensions ostensibly inform the current MPs cautious approach to CDF management. New MPs have professed their desire to do things differently from their predecessors especially by avoiding the ‘mistakes’ that may have proved costly with voters.

Redressing CDF mismanagement begins with the composition of new CDF committees, known as CDCs. The law gives newly-elected MPs 60 days within which to do this. Under the previous Parliament, the selection of these teams brewed controversy with MPs standing accused of packing their relatives, cronies and ‘yes-heads’ in them for reasons of reward and the desire for pliant management. A serious attempt to get it right should ideally, therefore, make committees acceptable and meritorious as possible.

A number of MPs have indeed strived to make CDCs as broadly representative as possible. But there are also indicators that others may not have necessarily accomplished this judging by murmurs of discontent from sections of constituencies. There have been threats to go to court and petitions to the national office for intervention.

But unless there is clear flouting of guidelines on CDC composition, there is little that the courts or the National Management Board can do to compel MPs to pick or drop certain choices against their wish. "Fairness" or "representativeness" are moot qualities that best lie in a perceiver’s eye. There are, however, generally accepted yardsticks of the absence of both.

Management transition has been a stickier issue. The incoming team is expected to take possession of the fund assets and liabilities in the constituency. Bank accounts, office and office property, projects — both complete or under construction — and other properties under the fund are required to change hands.

Although hand-overs have been smooth in most constituencies, there have been
disagreements reported in others. New MPs and their incoming CDCs have in some cases expressed reluctance to inherit the CDF affairs for various reasons. Key among these has been the state of bank accounts and controversies around ongoing projects.

There have been disputes on the amounts in the bank, allegations of illegal withdrawals and suspect payments. Many of the disagreements rotate around a moratorium on funding of new projects announced by the national office last December to cushion the kitty from election-related misuse.

Whereas a few CDCs may have flouted this directive, much of the emerging disagreements around bank accounts hinge on misunderstanding its finer details. What was proscribed was initiating and funding of new projects. But considering the contractual nature and attendant potential penalties for delayed payment for approved and undertaken CDF works, the ban did not stop payments of ongoing commitments. This largely explains why there may have been bank withdrawals during and after the electioneering period and before the composition of new teams.

Some MPs have questioned the feasibility and value of incomplete projects. A few have gone to the press professing their reluctance to complete the same in favour of alternative ones. Some of these concerns may indeed have some merit.

While the National Secretariat appreciates these concerns, it must guard against potential and politically tinged wastefulness of public resources. A bit of the hostility to incomplete projects reeks of political prejudice and score-settling. In some cases, this is tempting considering the skewed sharing of the CDF cake within some constituencies. In the nature of our pork-barrel politics, some MPs did succumb to the folly of disproportionately rewarding their support base at the expense of other parts of their constituency.

However, abandoning projects would be economically unwise. Outside the politics of the projects, CDF is public money. Thus, the real victim of a projected abandoned to spite its initiator is the larger public. Besides wasting scarce resources, it could nurture a bad precedent and a culture of retribution whenever a constituency elects a different MP.

MPs were inducted on the prerequisites of a hand-over at a CDF workshop in January. They must be satisfied with the state of whatever they are inheriting. Thus their reluctance to merely take over amid audit issues and lingering dissatisfaction is understandable. However, they will have to be pragmatic about the good and the ugly of their predecessors if they are to succeed.

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