COMMENTARY: CDF—the antithesis of sound social and economic development

Commentary By AV Hughes

The overall aim of government in Solomon Islands, as in other developing countries, should be to manage the use of the total human, financial and physical resources available to the country in such a way that the mental and physical well-being of all its people, and the equitable distribution of such conditions, steadily improve over time, and the impact of external shocks (physical, financial or strategic-political) is successfully managed in line with that aim.

Looking at the national economy as a whole, investment decisions are continually being made at all levels, from national government down to households and personal savings, that involve a choice between competing possible uses of the available money, land, people’s time or other resources. Every investment decision, however large or small, incurs an ‘opportunity cost’ comprising the potential value of things that cannot now be done with the resources that are being committed by that decision.

In that context, Constituency Development Funds (CDF) as conceived and practiced in Solomon Islands are contrary to the public interest.

The energy and attention of MPs is concentrated on achieving the biggest possible allocation of CDF resources to their control to distribute within the constituency so as to secure their own re-election. This appears to be politically and financially feasible, leaving the provision of social and economic services and the construction and maintenance of social and economic infrastructure to the increasing number of countries and regional and international institutions providing external aid to Solomon Islands. The ‘donor community’ seems to have no difficulty with this arrangement, or if they have, they keep quiet about it to protect their individual bilateral relationships.

CDFs originated in former UK colonies in East Africa and spread like a debilitating sickness to other developing countries then under UK management. The impact of the widespread abuse of CDF resources and their effective use as a ‘Vote For Me’ fund, undermines public confidence in the machinery of government and cultivates a cynical disrespect for political institutions and individuals.

CDF allocations should be reduced and redirected so as to limit their distorting effect on overall resource allocation — for example, by restricting, specifying and monitoring CDF end-use applications.

Standard arrangements for application and use of CDF resources should be established in all constituencies, and their operations monitored and centrally reported. Transparency Solomon Islands has carried out in-constituency investigations into CDF funding and associated activities and is in a position to make research-based recommendations on improving the developmental efficiency of CDF expenditures.

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