Explain plan for constituency funds
A bright idea to provide each elected MP with $10 million annually to fund constituency projects should not be applied without careful arrangements to ensure its workability. In its now habitual approach to policy-making, the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration announced this new initiative without providing any details of how it would function, let alone a Green Paper. In recent years, Constituency Development Funds (CDFs) have become a popular policy tool in some developing nations, mainly in Africa and South Asia. The stated goal is decentralisation and a more efficient delivery of services. The suspected goal is to widen the scope of what in Trinidad and Tobago is called rum and roti politics.
While it is true that the $10 million disbursement will be allocated to all 41 members of the House of Representatives, this doesn't necessarily eliminate the vote-buying danger of this programme. For example, the Government has not stated whether the money will be given directly to MPs or whether they would have to draw it down from the relevant Ministries, such as Works or Utilities. If MPs have direct control of the funds, what's to prevent them from using those monies for vote-catching? They might invent projects whose main aim is to funnel cash to friends and family and financiers. Or they might look at their voting numbers in the various polling districts in their constituencies and fund projects, not the basis of needs, but on the basis of solidifying support in weak areas. Offsetting this necessitates drawing up criteria for what constitutes a constituency project, which is itself a challenge.
It's also not clear how this new arrangement will work alongside Local Government, which is supposed to have responsibility for the details of constituency maintenance and improvement. If the MP projects are to work in parallel, what are the measures to avoid duplication, wastage, and conflict? In fact, why not give these same funds to the Local Government bodies, since this administrative system already exists?
MPs are always under pressure to get things done in their constituencies, especially infrastructural items such as road and drainage repairs. But MPs are actually powerless to do more than lobby Ministers to whose portfolios such tasks belong. This gives the Government MPs a built-in advantage over the Opposition ones, since the former can more easily horse trade to get their pet projects done. And, needless to say, the Opposition MPs are going to cry victimisation if their projects are given less priority by relevant State agencies — or even if they aren't.
In short, without a rigorous approach, this $410 million plan may create more problems than it solves. It may be a bright idea, but it needs more light.