Voter survey shows Westerners want drastic changes to CDF

Many voters in West New Georgia Vonavona constituency in the Western Province are deeply dissatisfied with the lack of transparency, management and distribution of Constituency Development Funds (CDF) according to a recent voter survey conducted by two female Journalists shortly before the April national elections.

Conducted in the constituency of West New Georgia Vona Vona, the voter survey reveals deep levels of dissatisfaction with how CDF funding has been managed and distributed with 92 per cent or respondents saying that had not received any assistance from the outgoing MP’s CDF during the life of the last parliament.

Introduced in the 1990s, the CDF is designed to act as a crucial resource for Members of Parliament to address the needs of the communities and promote development at the grassroots level.

However, our survey revealed a range of concerns regarding the management and distribution of CDF funding in the North West New Georgia constituency.

Almost all of those surveyed raised concerns about a lack of transparency, and called for a systemic change in the management of CDF funds.
According to the voters’ survey carried out in West New Georgia Vonavona constituency almost 85 per cent of those who took part in the survey said they did not know who was the Constituency Development Officer responsible for managing the funds.
Samson Boti one of the outspoken respondents echoed “this lack of transparency in identifying the key personnel accountable for the utilisation of public funds reflects a concerning trend of opacity within the system”.

 
Samson Boti. Photo credit – MAVIS PODOKOLO.

The survey participants unanimously voiced their desire for greater transparency and accountability in the way the Constituency Development Funds are distributed.

This collective call for change is underscored by high levels of frustration and disillusionment among the electorate regarding management of CDF funds.

The survey results also support the concerns expressed nationally that the distribution of CDF funding is now heavily influenced by politics with over 92 per cent of respondents saying that they believed they had been denied access to any CDF funds support because they had not voted for the former member in previous elections.

This perceived bias in assistance provision based on political affiliation raises serious ethical and governance concerns.

It not only undermines the principles of democratic representation but also exacerbates existing socio-economic disparities within the constituency.

Jeffery Sione from Rawaki says addressing this issue is paramount to fostering inclusivity and ensuring that CDF resources are allocated based on genuine need rather than partisan interests.

The voters survey also highlighted almost 70 per cent of respondents highlighted water, education, and health as their primary concerns, reflecting a pressing demand for essential services in the constituency.

Whilst almost 40 per cent identified said jobs, economic opportunities and financial assistance as key areas needing to be urgently addressed.

The diverse range of needs underscores the multifaceted nature of development requirements within the constituency, suggesting a more comprehensive approach to address these issues effectively is needed.

A third of those respondents who said they had been denied access to support under CDF  were women, highlighting the role gender plays in the disparity of access to development in the country.

Pastor Malin Mitau from Konguaqorana,Vonavona lagoon echoed the importance of amplifying the voices of women in decision-making processes related to resource allocation and development initiatives.

Pastor Malin Mitau.Photo credit – MAVIS PODOKOLO

“By ensuring gender-inclusive participation, policymakers can gain valuable insights into the unique challenges faced by women and devise targeted interventions to address their specific needs, thereby promoting gender equality and social inclusivity,” Mrs Mitau said.

Former Permanente Secretary for Ministry of Rural Development, the ministry responsible for the CDF funds Samson Vuilu said under the newly passed CDF ACT 2023, 40 percent of the funds will be allocated to activities categorised as resources and private sector activities.

Another 20 percent will be allocated to essential services like Police and health and the remaining 20 percent will be accorded to social and Cultural obligation for leaders.

“The intention here is to support our economic to grow so we can self-sustainable. We cannot rely on our friends overseas,” the former PS said.

He said the new CDF ACT 2023 will not only help our rural people and communities better understand their roles under the new law but will also help them to use it accordingly.

PS Viulu adds the CDF ACT 2023 focuses on strengthening good governance, to ensure improved and effective delivery mechanisms of the constituency Development Funds and to promote equal and inclusive participation of all Solomon Islanders in development.

In the survey many recipients as well as non-recipients of CDF funding are pushing for reforms that will foster greater transparency, enhance community engagement, and promoting gender-inclusive participation.

Ronald Kere a respondent from Rarumana village says “there is a need to build trust, promote development, and uphold the principles of good governance within a constituency.”

Ronald Kere. Photo credit – MAVIS PODOKOLO.

Solomon Islands has 50 constituencies scattered across more than 700 inhabitable islands.

Malaita Province, with the largest population has 14 constituencies followed by Western and Guadalcanal provinces with eight constituencies each.

Makira and Temotu provinces have four constituencies each and Honiara, Choiseul and Isabel three constituencies each.

The country’s smallest province, Rennell and Bellona has one constituency.

The size of the population in each constituency also varies widely across the nation with less than 4000 voters registered in the smallest constituency compared with some of the largest constituencies which have more than 10,000 voters registered according to the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission’s electoral roll which was updated ahead of the recent national election.

However, each MP receives the same amount of CDF funding regardless the size of their constituency’s population.

According to the provisional results of the 2019 census Western Province has a population of almost 72, 500.

The end result on the ground is not reflective of such a large investment in development, with very little sign of sustainable development.

Many villages are still without running water, schools are few and very distant from communities and clinics are not staffed or lack basic drugs.

In the review documents tabled in Parliament it was revealed that each MP in the last parliament received 6.8 million in Constituency Development Funds to provide support to their constituents  which would be a cumulative CDF allocation exceeding SBD$3 billion over the last decade.

BY DOROTHY WICKHAM & MAVIS PODOKOLO

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