Last week’s public hearing by the Senate marked the final leg of the journey towards legalisation of constituency development projects and making it part of the federal law. This would end the unnecessary acrimony and bickering over the projects.
The controversy over the constituency projects since 1999 to date has become an annual ritual whenever the budget is being considered. So, the public hearing was significant and as well as historic because it makes Nigeria a member of the over 24 countries with such laws. It would address rural poverty and poor infrastructural development in all the about 469 federal constituencies in the country.
The constituency development system is operational in Ghana, India, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Southern Sudan, Honduras, Malawi, Liberia, Nepal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zimbabw, Zambia and the United States of America. It is a funding arrangement whereby funds are made available from the central government directly to various constituencies for local infrastructural development and addressing the peculiar needs of the electorate.
It is a veritable way of addressing poverty and providing the immediate infrastructure that could have evaded the attention of the government at the centre. It is always initiated by the legislators from their various constituencies but executed by the executive arm of government.
Bernard Namario, writing on the Kenyan experience, on the topic, Constituency Development Fund, Merits and Demerits to Community Development, said community development is an engaging process meant to deliver beneficial change to the participating members of the community.
On a much wider perspective, the United Nations sees community development as a complex processes where the efforts of community members are united with those of governmental authorities in order to improve the economic, social and cultural conditions of the community and the nation at large.
But many Nigerians fear that the constituency projects could turn out to be white elephant projects for the legislators to use in lining their pockets. This was why Senate President Bukola Sraki took time to try to dispel the fears about constituency projects. He assured that the new law on community development would not only ensure transparency and accountability but would also outlive the originators.
Declaring open the public hearing, Saraki, who was represented by the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, said the constituency projects initiative had often been a controversial aspect of the Nigerian budget.
According to Saraki, “It does always seem to be the bone of contention in the budget tussle between the arms of government. This partly stems from widespread ignorance on what constitutional projects are their executions, their seeming lack of continuity and other similar issues.
“I think this bill couldn’t be more apt. The Constituencies Development Catalyst Fund (Establishment) Bill aims at creating some level of transparency and accountability in the execution and management of constituency projects. It seeks to establish the concept of continuity of projects, and ensure that projects are not abandoned over changes in political representations.
“Constituency projects will be made to succeed their originators and have prior consideration before any new project is introduced. The intent and purpose of this bill is to create a transparent framework for the introduction and execution of Constituency projects for a more accountable representation.. The reaction that trailed the introduction of the bill was to be expected, as it deals with one of the most sensitive and controversial aspects of legislative duty.”
He said the public hearing was organised to address the fears over constituency projects and assured that the senate would be guided by the stakeholders’ opinions.
Saraki stated, “The eighth National Assembly is committed to enacting quality and purposeful legislations through an all-inclusive process. As lawmakers and stakeholders in the democratic process, we have the responsibility to not only make laws that will hold people accountable for their actions, but also ensure that laws promote confidence and support for governmental processes.
“This bill is hoped to be one of such laws that will seek to restore faith in government processes by creating some clarity in the concept of Constituency projects.5. The task of nation building, and consolidating on our democratic values and gains are the collective responsibility of each and every one of us. It is a task that we all must be prepared to perform for the purpose of leaving an enduring legacy for posterity.”
The senate president added, “On our part, we will strive to ensure that all submissions and contributions done today are carefully sifted and considered before further legislative actions.”
As in the Kenyan experience, the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Act, 2003, was the law that first established the CDF fund in the East African countries. Originally, according to the act, 2.5% of the nation’s total revenue collection was to be channelled directly to the 210 constituencies through their sitting Members of Parliament. This was later revised to 3.5% in the 2006/7 fiscal year. The CDF Act has undergone a series of amendments over the succeeding years in order to keep up with the dynamics unfolding in the Kenyan society; consider Kenyans adopting the constitution in 2010.
The CDF fund is defined, according to the Act’s 2013 version, as a portion of the national annual budget devoted to Kenya’s 290 constituencies for the purposes of infrastructural development, wealth creation and poverty eradication at the constituency level (Constituencies Development Fund Act (No 30 of 2013), 2013).
From this definition, CDF can be seen as a fund that is meant to stimulate community economic development efforts at the constituency level. Community Economic Development (CED) is a subset of community development and it seeks to economically empower the residents of a constituency.
Constituency Development and Catalyst Fund is planned to empower local communities with funds from the national government and donors.
Opinions regarding the fund vary. Some believe the fund has had a transformational effect on their constituencies while others are of the opinion that the kitty is just another loophole that greedy politicians can exploit to siphon funds from the nation´s coffers.
But senators and other stakeholders at the public hearing saw the bill on CDF as a way of correcting geo-regional imbalances brought about by patronage politics by fighting poverty through the implementation of local development projects, particularly those that provide basic needs such as education, healthcare, water, agricultural services, security and electricity.
Barring further amendments, the bill when signed into law would involve 2.5% of the government´s ordinary revenue. It would help to address historical and systemic wrongs such as regional disparities. The National Bureau of Statistics has already said there is a huge disparity in service accessibility, quality and efficiency and it is hoped that CDF, being a public fund, would play a crucial role in addressing some of these disparities. .
In Kenya, since the introduction of CDF in 2003, more local health facilities have been constructed and equipped in many parts of the country. Many people are able to access healthcare services and education within their villages today than before CDF was introduced
In Kenya, the CDF currently allocates up to 15% of each annual disbursement to bursaries. CDF committees work together with secondary school bursary committees to help them identify and fund needy students in their constituencies. CDF bursary is open to local primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, hence accommodating a wide span of education beneficiaries, including postgraduate students.
The International Economic Agency (IEA) noted that the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) commended the 9th parliament for enacting the Constituencies Development Fund Act, 2003. CDF advocates accountability, public participation, equity in access and availability of complaints and redress mechanisms when it comes to its management
Together with the North East Development Commission, the Constituency Development and Catalyst Fund would also help to quicken the reconstruction of the Boko Haram-ravaged states. It will certainly help to bring development to the rural areas.
––Okocha is Special Assistant to the Senate President on Print Media.