The point of most immediate interest regarding the proposed $410 million Constituency Development Fund (CDF) must surely be its implications for free, but more importantly, fair elections in Tobago.
As the scene of the first electoral test of the People's Partnership Government, it is a safe bet that Tobago will feel the first wash of CDF cash ahead of the Tobago House of Assembly elections due in January.
With both Tobago MPs being members of the governing party, and each to be entitled to a disbursement of $10 million, the Government will effectively be giving itself a $20 million campaign advantage over the PNM and other contending parties and independents.
But perhaps the far more central point to be made is the threat the fund poses to every essence of the democratic parliamentary system, while masquerading as the exact opposite.
Whether of sinister or merely expedient intent, the Government's sleight of hand suggestion that this fund should become active with the next Budget and be managed by the Government through the Ministry of Finance pending some future legislation, effectively erases the separation between Legislature and Executive and pulls the legislature under the control of the executive.
Perhaps, there are those within the Government who genuinely believe that the CDF will solve the Government's problems of delivery at the constituency level. And, maybe, they also believe that the delivery problem is urgent enough to warrant implementation without legislation.
But is it so serious that we would be willing to put Members of Parliament, including Opposition MPs, under direct government oversight and control of any kind?
Surely, the problems of government delivery are those of the government, not of the parliament. As deficient and compromised as they may be, government ministries and local government are the executing arms of the government's programme. Not parliament.
Somebody seems to have their legislative and executive wires crossed somewhere. For, it is not the Cabinet's business to set the rules for how parliamentarians must spend money allocated for constituency development. This is the business of Parliament which must never be mistaken for some sub-committee of cabinet.
In the context, it is incredible that the Speaker of the House has not moved to intercept the Government's flawed line of reasoning.
In any case, the idea that CDF-funded projects are to conform to the Government's Medium-Term Development Plan is tantamount to the Government co-opting the entire Parliament, including the Opposition, in implementing its work programme.
How laughable that any government should expect the opposition to be comfortable with, and willing to implement its development plan.
If the tables were turned tomorrow and the PNM were back in office implementing, say, its Vision 20-20 Plan, would the MPs of the UNC, COP/or TOP accede to the demand to spend their constituency development funds in furthering the PNM's Vision 20-20 Plan? The idea makes nonsense of the very notion of party politics.
The cynical view would suggest that, with six of one and half-a-dozen of the other, it really doesn't matter whose plan is implemented: same khaki pants. But that would be the cynical view.
The point however, is the ludicrous notion that any opposition should agree to shooting itself in the foot by carrying out the government's development agenda which is, after all, geared to the government's re-election. Duh!
As with almost everything else, the post-hoc rationalisation for the CDF is the consequence of government by extempo that keeps us in a perennial state of backing-back to go forward.
If the People's Partnership Government were firmly of the view that the work of MPs needed to be bolstered with adequate funding, it simply had to bring its proposal to Parliament for discussion and debate. Given its built-in majority, Parliament would have approved and, one expects, referred the matter to a joint parliamentary committee for establishing the rules and procedures to guide the management and operation of the CDF through a properly-resourced capability firmly established and protected within Parliament itself.
In due course, a suitably drafted bill would be brought for Parliament's consideration. The government's only role thereafter would be to make the annual allocation to Parliament.
Of course, the problem with adopting this approach is that none of it would be completed in time to make an extra $20 million available for the THA election.
And what of the Opposition itself?
Suitable noises have been made; but is the Government right in its calculation that $120 million is enough to buy PNM acquiescence? Is the corruption of public life so deep that this opposition — or any opposition for that matter — would see no choice but to bow its head, hold its nose and take the money? Does it not see the deep compromise into which this fund, implemented in this manner, would drag not only the PNM but the entire country?
Imagine, if you can, the political atmosphere following implementation of the CDF. Already defined under the People's Partnership Government Medium Term Development Plan, Government MPs have a head start on approved projects. Bureaucracy is no problem because they own the hand with the power to make the bureaucracy move.
Across the aisle, the Opposition seethes, its projects caught in one snag or another, no hand of power willing to help them along. Bombarded by baying constituents, they cut deals or cry discrimination, threatening litigation at every turn.
Pity the poor PS standing in the middle of the $410 million morass.
On the ground, inside the constituency, the competition grows fierce. Caught with delayed and failed projects, Opposition MPs blame the Government which in turn blames them for not being as effective as People's Partnership MPs. Meanwhile, under one pretext or another, money is passing into opposition territory, strengthening the hand of shadow Government MPs, cutting the very ground out from under the incumbents and escalating political hostilities with the approach of every election.
Do we actually have to get there to see the dangers inherent in the proposed ad hoc implementation of the Constituency Development Fund?
True, in today's world, the work of Members of Parliament requires significant and reliable resources for carrying out the task of representation. But the shape of the effort is to be determined, not top-down by parties in power, but by the national citizenry.
There is nothing to justify implementing this fund without appropriate and carefully drafted legislation.
Let us press pause on this, put the cheque book aside, and open up a discussion about the role and work of the T&T Member of Parliament in the 21st Century.
After we talk, we'll see.