CDF: A CURSE or A CURE?
By Mohamed Haji
The National Government- Constituencies Development Fund (NG-CDF), formerly known as the Constituency Development Fund, was established through the CDF Act of 2003. The fund is under the Ministry of Devolution and Planning and was established with the main aim of decentralizing infrastructural and socio-economic development to grass-root level.
Since inception, North Eastern Kenya received over 30 billion in National Government-Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) allocations, money that has been channeled to the constituencies through members of parliament. Let us put this into perspective. What can 30 billion build? It could build more than 240 ultra-modern mother and child hospitals in the region or a state of the art modern hospital in each and every one of the 18 constituencies, equip them and decently pay for essential staff and drugs for 20 years. That is the health care of almost everyone taken care of in one fell swoop! Universal Health Care coverage taken care of for 20 years! In education, every year we are shocked by the dismal performance of our children in national examinations. We all know bad schools and poorly remunerated teachers play a big role in these mass failures. Shillings 30 billion could build from scratch 500 prestigious high schools in the region, employ the best teachers and pay them the best salaries, equip the schools with the best laboratories and biggest libraries and propel our children to excellence in learning. We can dream on but folks this is what was wasted by those we elected since 2003 when CDF kicked in.
Unfortunately, people from the region had no one dialysis machine installed in any of their poor facilities referred to as Referral hospitals. Incidentally, due to the pronounced need for health care services, the then governors signed a Medical Equipment Leasing contract with the national government that runs into billions of shillings to provide oncology services, dialysis machines, build theatres, pay and provide specialists in these fields. This was a white elephant project at best. The cons of the contract that many of the richer counties refused to sign have been enumerated in my other writings. The current governors did not bother to cancel these contracts. Let us not waste time on bloviating politicians and non-existent budgetary lines. This is money that was available and could do all the above amazing things.
Contrary to popular assertions and popularised by members of parliament, CDF is for the general development of the constituency, development as defined by the constituents. It is designed to support constituency-level, grass-root development projects. Members of parliament pander around the false notion that CDF is ONLY for paying school fees and building classes. Some even say when asked, ”it is only 80 million, what can 80 million do?”! reminiscent of the ”only 7 billion was stolen” by the Deputy President.
Despite the wide-spread dearth of public consultation in every sphere of policy-making in Kenya, CDF has the added low of normalising the thought that it is pocket money for members of parliament, money to be spent as he or she wishes. At best it ends up building substandard edifices and worse fills the pockets of private individuals, wanton waste of much-needed funds. It is unfortunate that those who decide what projects to be built for the people have neither the experiences nor the knowledge to undertake such important decision-making. An MP who has never lived the experience of his or her constituents makes decisions on what development projects to initiate without actually consulting them on what they think they need or best for them. Most do not even visit their constituents and hide in Nairobi. Surprisingly, they claim mileage for visits. Impunity in abundance. There are those who propagate the idea that it is not the member of parliament’s business to visit the constituency, that their role is ‘making laws’. How then will he or she get to know what ails those who elected them? How will they know what laws help or hinder their constituents’ progress? Something must give. It cannot be business as usual. We must be mad to accept this as normal. This colossal waste of our resources that drains into bottomless private pockets must be stopped. It is causing death and destruction at every level.
Sometimes, it is not malice, incompetence or hubris that huge amounts of money get wasted through a project that is of no benefit to a community or locality that was initiated by an elected official. It is almost always the case that lack of experience leads to wastage. Members of parliament do not often bother to prototype or test a project before throwing good money at it. Yes, it is the case that these individuals will brazenly steal from their constituents and pocket the allocated funds but its also the lack of lived-experiences that leads to more waste.
We are not poor because there is no money. We are poor because our money is either stolen or doing the wrong things for us. We cant be poor when we are talking about 30 billion shillings in a population of about 3 million people. It does not take a lot of thinking to know that money is getting lost in the wrong projects, in no projects, and by outright theft. There is nothing to justify the billions allocated and nothing to show for.
I think with all these waste despite all the need, we can confidently say that contrary to the intentions of the proponents of CDF, the fund has been a curse for a great majority of our populations, not a cure to what was and still ails us.
Unfortunately, after normalising theft, most of us are lining up for the next elections, not as agents of change but only to replace one looter with another. We need change and we need it now. What is needed is not a touch on the tiller but complete social engineering. We need to talk to our souls and stop what we are doing not only to ourselves but our children and their children. We have a responsibility to act and ACT NOW.
In the meantime what could we do to mitigate further waste? we could trial one solution in my opinion. Suppose a great majority of our parliamentarians contracted insanity for 5 years and decided to come together and hedged all the funds allocated to all the 18 constituencies in a pool? On a lower estimate, this will be investing 7.2 billion in 5 years. If political union in NEP is impossible because of individual greed and myopia, let us try an economic union. A union of repute that runs like the best business empire. There is strength in numbers. Let the people of Northern Kenya encourage collaboration between their counties. Let them think big for once and forget about these miniature projects that are just channels for stealing public money. Let them dream big and form a company or a financial endowment, call it North Eastern Kenya Endowment Fund or whatever they want to call it, employ reputable, experienced wealth management company and invest this shilling 7 billion in Halal enterprises and ventures. Let them declare insanity for a while and do this! Investing about 7 billion shillings in 5 years will yield extraordinary results. The profit will be ploughed back into the investment for another 5 years. After the maturity of the investment, the yield will be used to build top-notch hospitals, super schools, and for other development projects. But we need to first elect crazy leaders who are willing to be unpopular, not bother if not reelected and only care for the legacy they will leave behind after that first term. Let us suspend useless laws that hinder progress, stop building substandard schools and ill-equipped health centers, disappoint get-rich-quick contractors for 10 years and trial this. The result may be amazing and we may all reap the fruits by exercising individual delayed gratification.
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