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Connecting People and Ideas for Integrated Development

CPA-SUNY workshop adopts Principles and Guidelines for Constituency Development Funds

SUNY/CID organized a Constituency Development Funds (CDFs) workshop together with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) in Kingston, Jamaica, on June 7-9, that was supported by the Parliament of Jamaica.  This workshop represents a significant step to provide an increasingly popular policy tool with norms of good governance with the adoption of "Principles and Guidelines for Constituency Development Funds"

Since 1990, more than 20 emerging democratic governments have adopted CDFs and many others are preparing legislation to initiate them.  On first glance, CDFs appear to be more formal versions of the pork barrel and earmarks employed by the U.S. Congress for the past 200 years: they dedicate public money to benefit parliamentary constituencies through allocations and/or spending decisions influenced by Members of Parliament. SUNY/CID’s research into CDFs began in 2009.  This comparative research is intended to reduce the heat-to-light ratio in these discussions and to assist in developing effective local development strategies that also strengthen ties between MPs and constituents. (Workshop summary here.)

The goal of the Jamaica workshop was to determine the efficiency of CDFs in service delivery, assess the extent to which they contribute to effective administration, and take steps to enhance the accountability and transparency of these funds. It followed from a workshop held during the CPA’s 56th Annual Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2010.

At a pre-workshop roundtable, academic experts working with SUNY/CID arrived at some common perspectives that emerged from research into a diverse set of cases. SUNY/CID Senior Associate Mark Baskin chaired the roundtable and convened the workshop.  Among the experts were Professors Harry Blair of Yale University, Nelson Kasifir of Dartmouth College, Joel Barkan of University of Iowa, Horace Bartilow of the University of Kentucky, and David Ndii of the Kenya Leadership Institute. They all have completed cross-national research into CDFs.

Each CDF emerges from unique social, economic and political circumstances and displays specific patterns and characteristics in their operations.  But they usually represent the decentralization of policy initiatives from the executive to the legislature.  SUNY’s experts added that MPs face tradeoffs among their roles in law making, oversight and constituency service.  MPs who spend less time on constituency service in favor of law-making and oversight risk electoral defeat – especially in electoral systems with single-member districts, weak parties and many poor voters.  So, CDFs can strengthen the political position of MPs by enabling them to serve their constituencies directly.

CDFs with distinct, formal steps in project selection, implementation and oversight demonstrate good cooperation between the members of parliament (MPs), local government, executive agencies, and civil society organizations (CSOs) and are effective programs of development.   And CDFs can enable constituents to play a significant and substantive role in project selection, implementation and oversight.  Effective CDFs, such as in Kenya, India and Jamaica, provide an additional source of financing for projects in constituencies alongside those financed by executive agencies, and local and regional governments. 

CDFs are often portrayed as a source of inefficiency and corruption, but research in Kenya, Jamaica and India indicate that CDFs emerged, in part, out of the failure of technocratic administrations to provide adequate services in health, education, roads, community centers, safety and the like.  It is true that some countries’ CDFs serve mainly as political slush funds, and inefficiencies can accompany the operations of all CDFs.  But in this, they do not differ from most other government programs aimed at delivering services.  CDFs that are well institutionalized, such as in Kenya and Jamaica, can significantly constrain opportunities for corruption and create systematic oversight and auditing of individual projects.

SUNY’s academic experts concluded that there may be no “one size fits all” prescription for CDFs, but that a set of principles and guidelines that reflect good governance norms and values would provide an important framework for this popular policy tool.

At the CPA-SUNY workshop, MPs maintained that CDFs have helped to diminish their heavy dependence on the executive for development initiatives in their own constituencies. One MP said,  “we respond to our constituents when they visit from the provinces ... constituents depend on us and we depend on them in the election.”  They discussed projects from building classrooms, providing scholarships, financing funerals of constituents, constructing roads, lighting streets, responding to natural disasters, and building additions to hospitals.

MPs acknowledged that CDFs differ across countries and that each government has a unique system of ensuring that impoverished areas receive more funding than developed areas.  Each government has its own practices on employing CDF funds to address natural disasters.  There are great differences in: the capacity to mix CDF funds with donor funds, the capacity to carry unused funds from one year to the next, methods of disbursing funds for projects, and method of oversight and monitoring.  MPs took these differences in stride amidst their common support for a means to improve the delivery of services in their constituencies.

MPs reported that their CDF policy communities shared common underlying principles of effective governance as well as the common desire to claim credit for serving constituents with improved services and governance.    But they made it clear that their constituents expect them to provide personal and public services at home and that they welcomed the opportunity to engage with their constituencies.

Following this discussion, the participants carefully reviewed the “Principles and Guidelines for Constituency Development Funds” initially drafted by SUNY/CID in advance of the workshop. The final Principles highlight the importance of transparency and cooperation among of government and society. They are organized under the following themes: Responsiveness, Transparency, Administration and Management, Accountability and Oversight, Monitoring and Evaluation.   The principles will be reviewed by the CPA Executive Committee and considered for adoption by the CPA General Assembly at the annual Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference that takes place July 21-28, 2011.

SUNY/CID will continue its project on CDFs by completing an academic collection on the operations of CDFs and to further develop guidelines and good practices.

Posted: June 23, 2011