IN an attempt to "strengthen" the country's system of local government and better "empower" citizens, the Cabinet has approved the payment of $10 million to each Member of Parliament to be utilised for infrastructural projects within their communities, Minister of Planning Dr Bhoe Tewarie said yesterday.
Tewarie gave details and the reasoning behind the Constituency Development Fund as he addressed the post-Cabinet press conference held at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's.
A Cabinet subcommittee of five ministers discussed the logistics behind the Constituency Development Fund before the matter was presented to Cabinet, Tewarie said.
The matter was then discussed in the Cabinet for two weeks, he said.
Tewarie said the possibility of the Constituency Development Fund was discussed in two previous administrations—the Patrick Manning-led PNM government and the UNC government led by Basdeo Panday.
Tewarie said the $410 million fund will be controlled by the Ministry of Finance and the Economy and MPs will be allowed to draw down on the funds.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan will bring legislation to control the Constituency Development Fund, Tewarie said.
This year's budget is expected to include the $410 million expenditure, he said.
Tewarie said the funds will be controlled by the public sector accounting procedures but a maximum of $1 million will be accessible for immediate relief in natural disasters.
A biannual evaluation will be done to assess the effectiveness of the funds, he said.
Last week Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said the plan by the government to allocate $10 million to each MP was an attempt at buying the two elections scheduled for next year.
The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election is scheduled for January next year, while the Local Government elections are constitutionally due in July.
Tewarie responded to Rowley's concerns yesterday.
"I feel (Rowley's) response to the proposal was too quick and with too little thought given to it. This was a proposal that was considered by a government of which he was part," Tewarie said.
"It is not a new idea, what is new is that we are doing it," he said.
Tewarie said the fund will make a lot of constituents happy.