Before reviewing formula, audit CDF expenditure

 Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir (centre) presents a Sh12 million dummy cheque from the NG-CDF kitty to NHIF official Robert Otom (left) on April 21, 2020 after getting into a contract with the fund to provide medical cover for 2,000 households in his constituency.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Even where an MP is only moderately corrupt, the disbursement of the CDF is a highly political affair.
  • The money will be allocated to people and areas generally known to support the MP.


A proposed new formula for sharing the famous National Government Constituencies Development Fund (NG-CDF) that seeks equity in distribution by slashing funds from constituencies with fewer wards to be reallocated to those with more wards is definitely going to generate controversy akin to what was recently witnessed during debate on the sharing of funds to counties.

This will generally be a wasteful effort because the real controversy over CDF is how much difference have the billions made on the ground and how transparently are the funds managed.

Set up in 2003 and received with great enthusiasm because it promised to transform constituency development by allocating around Sh100 million per constituency every year, the impact of the CDF in most constituencies has been underwhelming. A key challenge has been the structure of the CDF and the extraordinarily large influence that MPs continue to exert over the manner in which the money is allocated.

Although the law that formalised the NG-CDF in 2015 attempts to dilute the influence of the MPs by setting up independent management committees, the lawmakers still largely determine who sits on those committees.

Successive audits by the Auditor-General have reported colossal losses of funds through expenditure that is unaccounted for. In 2017, for example, more than Sh5 billion was distributed to 290 constituencies but most constituencies could only account for a fraction of their allocations.

Bursaries

Most of the cash is allegedly used for bursaries to support children that cannot afford to pay fees. Part of it is used to build schools and some of it goes to repairing rural access roads. But there is hardly any documentation – for example schedules identifying bursary beneficiaries – to support alleged disbursements.

Impassable roads

The sorry picture in most rural constituencies cannot support the fact that since 2003, an average of about Sh100 million has been spent per constituency every year.

Impassable roads under any weather, rickety or non-existent bridges, incomplete school projects, lack of basic health facilities within easy reach of the public and an endless cry for educational support from poor families cannot speak to prudent use of this money.

The reasons are not hard to find. Even where an MP is only moderately corrupt, the disbursement of the CDF is a highly political affair. The money will be allocated to people and areas generally known to support the MP.

And even where such support has been given, the tribal card trumps where constituencies are multi-ethnic. The tribe of the MP will be favoured in such cases.

The CDF has been abused in several other ways. Ongoing projects in many constituencies have been abandoned when serving MPs lose their seats even after millions had been pumped into them.

Such projects lie idle and the money spent on them will be wasted. The incoming MPs will generally not be too keen to complete projects started by people they see as competitors.

Ride motorcycles

Past audits have shown some MPs turned their CDF offices into employment bureaus for their cronies; hired consultants at exorbitant rates to design strategic plans for their constituencies that were neither launched nor publicly distributed; drew irregular sitting allowances; irregularly paid millions to train dozens of boda boda operators on how to ride motorcycles; paid for teachers to attend seminars far away from their constituencies; and awarded multimillion contracts irregularly.

The reality around CDF  is a sorry replay of what has happened to billions of funds devolved to counties since 2013. It is a story of illegal use of funds, lack of accountability, rampant theft and extreme casualness in management of public funds.

The very explicit guidelines spelt out in the Public Finance Management Act on how public funds should be used are generally ignored.

The structures empowered to play the oversight role appear helpless or are complicit in this theft. Accountability around the use of this funds must be tightened.

The public should be spared the inevitable drama of fights over the proposed sharing formula. Funds must fund intended projects and not be converted into financial muscle to bankroll election campaigns, lavish living and undermine political opponents.

  tom.mshindi@bluecraneglobal.com, @tmshindi)