John Roughan: From Law Maker to Project Funder!
From Law Maker to Project Funder!
By John Roughan
18 July 2005
Solomon Mamaloni hurt this country many times and in many ways but one of his costliest errors was to introduce the Constituency Development Fund . . . currently called the Rural Constituency Development Fund (RCDF). From its first days in 1993, parliamentarians were handed over $100,000 supposedly for the needs of the people in a constituency. Over the years, however, as the fund increased to $400,000 its major purpose of bringing development to people of the nation turned into a slush fund for everything and anything.
The worst thing about the fund is not that it is abused, misused and causes serious social friction. Much more seriously it has changed the nature of politics in the Solomons! It turned elected members from governing the nation to dispensers of funds. Our elected leaders, in the process, lost the understanding of their work. Basically the fund focused parliamentarians attention away from their primary role as law makers to fill their time up as dispenser of funds for projects, school fees, ship fares, medical expenses, traditional feasts, etc. etc. etc.
It is sad to see and hear about so many Solomon Islanders hanging around their members' home, waiting for the handout, help in financial difficulty, hearing the good word on a submitted project, etc. The typical MP's life is difficult enough trying to care for his immediate family than have more often than not, a dozen others from the constituency waiting at his home for a handout.
Much of today's criticism about the RCDF centres on the misuse of funds. But more importantly, many parliamentarians have lost their understanding that law making is their primary work. That's the very reason why they have been voted into parliament. They are expected to study carefully proposed new legislation, to critical review national direction trends. to think about alternative ways of making the nation hum, to work out ways to better direct the country. Their primary job is not to dispense money as if they were walking ATMs . . . Automatic Teller Machines.
Unfortunately, so much of the typical member's attention, energy and work patterns is used up in working out, dispensing of and checking the RCDF. This kind of work would be better given over to an elected (not selected by the member) group of people who truly reflect different groups, cultures, languages, sex and age of a constituency. The member must not be forced to administer the $400,000 but give the fund over to an elected group of responsible people who truly reflect the make-up of those living in a constituency.
Of course this group's work would be closely monitored and audited, not by the member (who will have his hands filled with law making) but a local reputable accounts firm. RCDF monies would be dispensed by group consensus vote which would allocate funds for truly development purposes. Boat's fare, medical prescription, school fee, traditional feast, donation, etc. do not qualify as developmental work but charity.
Late in 1993, when Christopher Abe was Minister of Finance, he proposed in parliament to scrap the CDF since already even at that time it was distracting MPs from their primary duty to serve the nation as law makers not project supervisors. SIDT ran a survey asking more than a thousand people whether they agreed with the idea of doing away with the CDF or not. Overwhelmingly, something like 91% of those interviewed, said "No!", don't do away with the fund but do not allow the member to administer the fund.
Unfortunately, Honourable Abe accepted the first part of the survey--to keep the fund going--but never mentioned in Parliament that the vast majority of people did not want members to administer the fund. It probably would have made little difference to parliament at that time what the people wanted, however. They were and still are not in the mood to lose control over $400,000. For many, this money is the only fund available to buy their way back into the Big House on the Hill.
The RCDF continues to be an important sign of the corruption cancer driving our electoral politics. Make no mistake about it! Members and voters alike are fond of, no, love, the idea of $400,000 floating around with little check on how it is used. But know well, also, what has been and continues to be the high cost to the nation. This $20 million-dollar yearly RCDF grant could finally be a real development tool. Or it could continue to distract members from their primary role as law makers and to feed people's unrealistic expectation that there really is such a thing as a 'free lunch'!