‘We do not feel the impact’ despite billions of dollars in rural development funds

As Solomon Islanders go to the polls next month to elect our 12th national parliament since Independence, it is disheartening, after all the billions of dollars that have been poured into the hands of our members of parliaments in the name of rural development, to witness women and children in our rural areas still grappling with limited access to healthcare and education.

Traveling through the lagoons of Western Province we spoke to many Solomon Islanders who expressed their disappointment with the CDF or Constituency Development Funds that national MPs are tasked with distributing, in theory for the benefit of all their constituents.

Samson Boti of Vona Vona Lagoon, told us: “We do not feel the impact of this fund, it appears only those who support the MP gets assistance.”

At its inception the Constituency Development Fund was originally designed to provide faster and more targeted access to funding for development in rural communities than could be delivered by the country’s slow-moving donor funded development infrastructure. It was thought that as their Member of Parliament, MPs would know best what their community needed and the network to deliver it.

But a recent expedition to Western Province to investigate the impact of the CDF in the West New Georgia Vona Vona Constituency, we found scant evidence of its efficacy.

Looking back through history, development fund assistance has been around for quite a while, it was initially launched in the 1980s as the Small Islands Community and Provinces Special Assistance (SICOPSA) grant, where direct funding was channelled to individual members of Parliament to cater to constituency needs.

Subsequently formalised as the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), its objectives were to empower marginalised groups with financial resources for income-generating ventures, foster socio-economic development among individuals, families, and community-based organisations to alleviate rural poverty, and mitigate unemployment through meaningful income-generating projects.

However, it has become obvious that the CDF as the scheme is commonly called by Solomon Islanders, has become a political weapon used by members of Parliament when seeking support or punishing those who did not vote for them. And in some cases a mechanism to enrich themselves and their family.

Alex Viqa, 84, of Rarumana, in the Vona Vona Lagoon observed that in the 12 years his current Member of Parliament for West New Georgia Vonavona has been in office his community had not received any support from the MP or his constituency office.

“Despite promises to assist in housing, healthcare, and education, none of these pledges have been fulfilled,” Mr Viqa told us.

While the impact of the CDF on the ground has remained very low, each year, on paper constituencies have received equitable allocations through the annual budget of the national government. In just a decade the amount provided to each MP for distribution has substantially increased—from approximately $2.1 million per constituency to as much as $6.8 million in recent years.

Despite a cumulative CDF allocation exceeding SB$3 billion over the last decade, rural areas have little to show for these funds and are still grappling with development challenges, lacking essential services and basic infrastructure to move forward in any meaningful way.

This raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of the current governance, administration, and implementation processes governing the CDF mechanism. The story is not the same for every province but similar in their particular needs.

Amidst the growing frustration and anger against MPs for the distribution of the CDF, an attempt was made to reform the act that governed the funds, the intention was to remove control over the funds from the MPs or at least improve accountability.

And the Constituency Development Bill 2023 was tabled and passed in National Parliament in December.

Whilst there may be attempts to redirect management and control of the funds to the ministries responsible for various sectors, the final payment made to MPs in November 2023 was made directly to the members of parliament.

This beats the purpose of what the government had announced it would do by confining Members of Parliament to their role as lawmakers, while providing an oversight to the implementation of the CDF programme.

A government press release at the time quotes, “Under the new CDF Act 2023, most of the responsibilities in the implementation of the CDF program has been delegated to public servants, constituency committees and the people.”

The people of this constituency are not blinded by the talk.

Malin Mitau a 62-year-old Pastor of Koqu Aqoroana congregation Rarumana Circuit, Kohigo Islands says, “This money we know nothing about it but I believe if properly managed many will  benefit from it, but there is no transparency on how they dealt with this money.

“We only know about the CIVIC education and health information because they often came over and visited us.

“And we think if these people can visit us regularly why is it so hard for our representatives to come and here our voices.”


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