TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) is very disappointed to hear the Prime Minister (PM) Manasseh Sogavare responding to many concerns raised on the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) by challenging the premiers of Malaita and Guadalcanal Province to take the matter to court.
The disbursement and use of the Constituency Development Funds (CDF) have been a controversial issue since the introduction of CDF and this continues to be the case till today.
It is no surprise that these provincial leaders are taking the initiative to challenge this.
The premiers of Malaita and Guadalcanal are not the only citizens of this country who are concerned about CDF.
Most citizens of this country are equally concerned about the use and disbursement of CDF.
Through the advocacy work carried out by TSI in all our provinces, CDF remains to be a concern to the people.
Although the ‘term’ CDF is something that people know and heard about from campaigns to seeing constituency officers and supporters benefiting from CDF, the actual information pertinent to the purpose of CDF is lacking or rather is a well-kept secret.
For a start, it is unclear when the CDF Act actually commenced pursuant to section 1 of the CDF Act.
Section 1 requires the Minister responsible to appoint when the Act shall come into operation by notice in the Gazette.
The citizens of this country need to be informed whether or not the Minister responsible at the time, in the exercise of the power conferred by section 1 of the CDF Act appointed a date in which the CDF Act come into operation.
Additionally, our legislators’ have miserably failed the citizens of this nation by deliberately choosing not to gazette the CDF Regulations since 2013 till today, why the delay?
Certainly, any concerned citizen of this country should be alarmed about the use and disbursement of CDF especially when the CDF Act permit millions of public funds to be channeled through members of Parliament, each MP receiving up to $7 million a year.
MPs are directly benefiting from this CDF Act whilst at the same time MPs are not transparent and accountable with the use of CDF and they fail to gazette the CDF Regulations.
Through TSI’s continuous advocacy work in our various communities, it’s obvious why CDF continues to be a huge concern to our citizens.
There is little to no information shared with the people who are supposed to be benefiting from these funds.
For example, the CDF Act requires each constituency to have a constituency development plan with regards how each MP plan to develop his/her constituency, yet constituents do not know what their development plans are.
How can they benefit from such plans if they do not know what areas they are supposedly developing?
The Act requires all 50 constituencies to establish constituency development offices in the 50 constituencies however all CDOs, Project officers, finance officers are based in Honiara.
Apart from the 3 Honiara constituencies, how can constituents in the 47 constituencies access their constituency officers? Some MPs even have their spouse as CDOs, isn’t this a conflict?
These constituency officers are public servants yet most seem to be immune to public service rules and regulations, why?
Some MPs have lists of supporters only who are eligible to benefit from CDF contrary to the purpose of having CDF.
There is an overwhelming abuse of CDF in this country yet nothing is done about this by citizens, why?
MPs fail to provide information pertaining to the use and disbursement of CDF to their constituents. MPs continue to use CDF to maintain voter support through the supporting and benefiting ‘voters only’.
It is common to hear in all communities that MPs support their voters only.
This can easily be rectified is MPs inform their constituents about development plans and most importantly the retirement of these millions of dollars.
Who knows, maybe the reports with regards the use and disbursement of CDF looks good and genuine on paper but does it reflect the situation on the ground in each communities?
Why would MPs hide their CDF retirement reports from the constituents?
Obviously, there are issues surrounding CDF that needs to be rectified, hence these two provincial leaders taking such initiative to challenge CDF.
The PM’s defensive response will not benefit this country, more public funds will be lost in defending this if it goes to Court.
Such a response is unacceptable and it shows a leader who does not have the citizens wellbeing at heart.
TSI is concerned to see the huge increase again given to the Constituency Development Fund that allocated each MP the sum of $6.8 million a year whilst out health sector is in dire need of much needed help and support.
Clinics in poor states.
Very little or nothing to be seen in the constituency as evidence of CDF contribution to development over the past years.
This is the second highest CDF allocation for the Constituencies through their MPs.
To allocate this amount of money for the Constituencies at a time when the country is going through an economic crisis and health crisis is very irresponsible of the MPs, regardless of which side of the house they are in.
And to allocate such an amount to go through this failed and very corrupt scheme at a time when the country needs to address the health crisis by way of doing something about the delipidated state of health and medical infrastructures is beyond understanding, common sense and is not a sign of good and strong leadership.
Transparency Solomon Islands agrees with Hon Harry Kuma who said, “if Solomon Islands is to grow and develop into a society that is economically vibrant, sustainable and prosperous then we must ensure there is political and economic stability and strong ethical leadership.”
But allocation or commitment of $330 million for CDF is most certainly not a sign of strong ethical political leadership nor will it bring about a society that is economically vibrant, sustainable, and prosperous.
This is especially so when our debt stands at $1.5billion as government borrows. The Constituency Development Fund Scheme is the most corrupt funding scheme there is.
It corrupts elections, it corrupts public officials, it corrupts people, it corrupts government systems, it hijacks the constitutionally assigned roles of the provincial governments and the Ministries.
For all these millions nothing much happens for the majority of Solomon Islanders.
The executive government must understand that the intended legal challenge on the legality of the CDF is not an issue to do with the PM or the MPs, but a matter to be tested in court, to see whether CDF is constitutional or unconstitutional. Since CDF was introduced to MPs who are elected representatives from the constituencies as legislators in parliament, citizens see and feel very little impact on their lives from CDF.
Over a decade now CDF has total up to billions but yet citizens haven’t seen any tangible development from the fund.
The PM instead of suggesting ways to improve the management and disbursement of CDF to meet its intended purpose, he however challenges the premier to take the matter to court.
This does reflect well of an elected leader who is supposed to be collaborating with the provincial government as his agents to deliver services to the people.
TSI believes that given the abuse, lack of transparency and accountability surrounding CDF, the Legislators (MPs) must gazette the CDF Regulation and come up with ways to improve the funding mechanism.
But to defend its current status and ignoring citizens’ concern over its high prevalence to breed corruption does not reflect well of the leadership of the executive government.
TSI further reiterated the call on MPs and Constituency Officers to inform your constituents about how their CDF have been used over the years to supposedly develop their constituencies.
MPs must inform constituents about your Constituency Development plans seeing that whatever development is done in the constituencies as a result of CDF funding, it has to reflect the development plans.
Often citizens wanting to find out more information about their constituency plans and retirement of funds to enable them to align project applications with areas identified in constituency development plans are informed that these information are confidential.
MPs and constituency officers must not misinform constituents to believe that CDF information are confidential information. Constituents must be informed about how their CDF have been spent and about plans to further develop their constituencies (if need be).
MPs and Constituency Officers must inform their constituents about their retirement reports and again TSI calls on the Ministry responsible to verify retirement reports through visits to the communities.
Enough of this secrecy surrounding the use and disbursement of CDF, our people deserve better.
CDF in its use, abuse and misuse is a breeding ground for abuse and misuse of entrusted power by those in power.
TSI earlier commends Hon Silas Vagara for his move to channel CDF through the Provincial Government under ward grant mechanism.
TSI hopes other MPs will do the same. Similarly in Choiseul, the people said they are finally seeing the impact of the ward grants under the current arrangement where CDF is being channeled through ward committees, so why not trial it out.
All members of Parliament know that PCDF and Ward Grants are well structured, tested, monitored, and have proved to be the most effective and productive means of disbursing public funds to deliver projects and achieved the desired outcome.
Sadly, the voices of the people MPs represent have fallen on deaf ears.
They hear them, they know what needs to be done, but they choose not to do anything about it other than prioritize their own interest first and if there is any crumb left their constituency might get it.
Former Prime Minister Hon Rick Hou as the Governor of the Central Bank was the most vocal about how corrupt this scheme is. Disappointingly it is now business as usual.