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Commentary

 

Constituency Development Fund: A Critique

The Constituency Development Fund (CDF) was created in Kenya in 2003 through an act of parliament to “fight poverty at the grassroots level through the implementation of community based projects which have long term effects of improving the peoples’ economic well being… (and to) relieve members of parliament from the heavy demands of fund-raising for projects which ought to be financed through the Consolidated Fund.

The legal provision of the establishment and operation of the Act suggests that the fund is essentially a model for decentralization of development planning and implementation.  In this case, the organization and operation of the fund lies squarely within the domain of administrative decentralization.

Decentralization as a means for fostering development has been a focus of intense academic, policy and even popular debate in Africa in general and Kenya in particular.  On the policy front, the government has formulated a series of decentralization programs, although their implementation has in all cases fallen far short of expectation.  The most notable of the decentralization programs that have been attempted in the past include majimbo system (1963), District Development Grant Program (1966), the Special Rural Development Program (1969/70), the Rural Development Fund, District Development Planning (1971), and the District Focus for Rural Development (1983’84).

These programs were established to run simultaneously with local government authorities that are also an aspect of decentralization.  More recently, all the diverse opinions on the Constitution of Kenya review process have coalesced around the need for a constitutionally sanctioned structure of decentralization with divergence appearing only in regard to the precise model that  should be adopted. 

The CDF is arguably the new kid on the block in terms of attempts to decentralize decision-making. The primary argument for decentralization is that it enhances the process and speed of development through the “provision of social and economic services.” although this meaning of development has been found to be weak because it creates a government-dependent society.  Development must therefore mean enhancing the capacity of the society to cope with challenges and meet its needs.  The contribution of the CDF program must therefore be assessed against the background of the latter meaning of development.

The establishment of the CDF program is an expression of continued faith in decentralization and frustration with the poor – indeed fatal – performance of all previous models of decentralization. How well is the legal and organizational framework of the CDF program suited for the realization of development goals in Kenya in the light of theoretical precepts of decentralization?  This question will be answered through, first, an assessment of the organizational framework of the CDF and second, an assessment of the established operational framework as a vehicle for the realization of the goals of decentralized planning and implementation.

Concepts in Decentralization and Development

Decentralization is the redistribution of decision-making responsibility between the centre and lower-levels of an organization.  In governance, it would involve redistribution of decision making power and authority between the headquarters of the national government (the central government) and the field units such as districts, provinces, regions or local councils.  Popular participation in decision making is an important aspect of decentralization.  The case of CDF program involves redistribution of decision making responsibilities for project planning and implementation from the central government ministries and departments to the constituencies.

Decentralization can take two broad models: deconcentration and devolution. Deconcetration involves redistribution of power from the center to the subordinate levels within the same organization. It is effected through internal and administrative procedures and does not involve legislation. It can therefore be reversed without the need to change or breach the law.  The CDF program has been established through an Act of parliament; through legislation and does not therefore fit perfectly in the category of deconcentration.

Devolution on the other hand involves redistribution of decision making power and authority through legislation (an act of parliament or the constitution) and characteristically involves the creation of political decision making units, mostly elected councils. The CDF program partially fits in the devolution model in the sense that it has been established through legislation and the MP who is responsible for the program in the constituency is an elected official.  However, the fitting is not perfect to the extent to which the program is not managed through an elected council such as in the case of local authorities.

Relationship between Decentralization and Development

Decentralization has many virtues. Competence in local knowledge and information resides in the hands of local officials thus decentralization of authority to local officials results in realistic planning and action. The participation of local population lends additional accuracy to assumptions about the development situations of the local officials; assumptions upon which decisions are made and action taken. Coordination of development agencies operating within a particular local area is made possible, simpler and effective. Heads of departments in the field have power and authority to act on behalf of their agencies.

In an environment of decentralization, expeditious decision making and action is made possible through location of planning, budgeting, and implementation at the same site. The center is liberated from undue involvement in maters of detail that is often achieved at the expense of careful policy analysis. This enhances accountability of officials because questions are put directly to the field officials where the results are expected to show. Overall, decentralization enhances the democratic ethic at the grassroots and obviates possible local belief that the government and development are imposed from above. The morale of local officials and community representatives is boosted to the extent that they are accorded opportunity to exercise their competence, knowledge and experience rather than be robotic implementers of decisions from above

Institutional Structure of CDF Program

A discussion of the institutional arrangement of the CDF program can appropriately begin with the relationship between the program and the central government.  The CDF Act requires the government to grant the program a minimum of 2.5 percent of the national revenue for each financial year, besides monies to be received through borrowing or other sources, presumably donations received by the National Management Committee (NMC) of the fund.  The financial relationship between the central government and the CDF program is quite appropriate in the sense that the exact size of the grant to be remitted to the CDF is predetermined in law.  The central government may not therefore renege on its obligation as happened in previous decentralization programs that were not rooted in the law.

The NMC is composed of representatives of relevant central government ministries at the level of Permanent Secretary (Finance, agriculture, health, roads, housing and public works),technically competent officers appointed by the Minister of Finance, representatives from civil society, mostly religious organizations, and the manager of the fund.  The function of the NMC is to disburse the funds and oversee their efficient utilization, by receiving and checking reports and returns from the constituencies.  The NMC is dominated by the central government officials and thus undermines the essence of decentralization especially, the hallowed element of popular participation.  In addition, the importance of religious organizations as the core of civil society   participation in the NMC overemphasizes the representative character of the three religious organizations mentioned in the Act.

The Officer Administering the Fund is the CEO of the CDF program responsible for ensuring respect for the CDF rules and procedures, including the keeping of accounts, and submissions of reports to the Controller and Auditor General.  There is need to establish a similar office for each district, in keeping with the terms of decentralization.

The Estimates Committee is a select committee of parliament responsible for verifying project proposals that MPs forward to the clerk of the National Assembly, before the list of the proposals is submitted to the Minister for Finance through the Clerk, to be included in the financial estimates for the coming financial year.  This committee is appropriately located within the National Assembly.  However, if the committee is important in the scheme of things, isn’t it therefore a risk that it is made up exclusively of MPs? While it may be difficult for a committee of parliament to include ‘stranger’ on it, the Act can overcome the difficulty by requiring the committee to receive representations and memoranda from the public in all the districts.

Central Government Departments in the District are responsible for implementation of projects by themselves or using other agents through the regular tendering process.  The district development officer (DDO) is seemingly the officer answerable to the NMC. The requirements in classical decentralization, especially devolution is for the decision making and implementation agencies to be different between the central government and the devolved units.  In the case of CDF these are shared, thus reducing the completeness of decentralization.

The District Projects Committee is composed of MPs, Mayors/chairs of local authorities, DC, DDO, community representative; District Accountant and District Heads of relevant departments (ex-officio).  The work of the committee is to oversee implementation of the CDF projects.  It is inadequate that the act has provided room for only one representative from the civil society, for this undermines the idea of popular participation.

The District Development Committee is responsible for ensuring that projects that are implemented under the CDF do not duplicate projects implemented under other programs.  The role of the DDC is appropriate because there should be a distinction between types of projects that come under the exclusive domain of CDF and those that come under the domain of other programs.

In general, the institutional structure of the CDF program suggests that the program itself lies mid-way between decentralization and centralization given the heavy involvement of the center and the limited involvement of the local population.  In this sense CDF comes very close to the district focus.



By Dr. Ludeki Chweya
Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science and Public Administration
University of Nairobi


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