Analysis & Opinions - Business Daily

Our MPs Should Keep off CDF

| December 20, 2007

Kenyans go to the polls to elect leaders that they hope will help them improve their welfare. They have one powerful instrument against which to judge their performance: the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).

Much attention has been devoted to CDF misuse. But a more serious issue is the conflict of interest among parliamentarians. There should be separation between legislative roles and executive functions as foreshadowed in the Constitution.

Parliament is the right place to adopt laws that govern the use of funds. But MPs are unlikely to encourage legal provisions that demand higher accountability standards. The next Parliament will hopefully be wise enough to protect MPs by ensuring that the legislative roles are clearly separated from executive functions.

The lessons arising from CDF activities could offer critical sources of knowledge on community development. One way to facilitate this is to organise a series of “development hearings” that would be based on research on CDF experiences.

A proportion of the CDF should be devoted to supporting research staff under the guidance of respective parliamentarians. The lessons learned from the cases would then form a basis for further legislation.

This approach would not only help to create employment of young researchers, but it would also help improve the quality of parliamentary debates. Parliament may in turn wish to strengthen its competence by setting up a Parliamentary Research Service that can undertake analytical work as requested.

Obviously, MPs who are both law-makers and project managers will not be interested in having such a transparent system. They will seek to suppress any information that might make their hand-picked projects look bad.

But with the separation of functions, parliamentarians will be interested in learning about how to improve project execution in their constituencies and in the rest of the country. There are other ways to improve CDF’s effectiveness. One approach is to focus on product development and marketing.

Such efforts will require placing greater management authority in local communities.  Thailand’s One Tambon  One Product (OTOP) movement offers some lessons on how such improvements in CDF can be introduced.

The Tambon (village or town) movement was inspired by earlier experiences in Japan’s Oita Prefecture. The Oita effort focused on adding value to local resources and making products that can compete on local and international markets.  

Thailand borrowed the idea and applied it to its natural resources, diverse traditional practices and indigenous skills with remarkable success.  With the help of the Japan External Trade Organisation, the OTOP movement initially targeted textiles, wooden products, baskets, ceramics and paper.

It diversified to cover a wide range of other products. Efforts are underway to strengthen the linkages between OTOP’s product development efforts and skill enhancement in technical institutions.

Despite its successes, the OTOP movement has come under great scrutiny because it was launched as a party platform. Its critics would like to see greater separation between development efforts and party allegiance. But its efficacy in empowering local producers can hardly be ignored.  

While total separation between political and economic activities may not be feasible, Kenya needs to find a way to ensure law-makers can focus on providing overall legislative guidance and oversight.

An autonomous system is needed for project execution. In the absence of such separation of powers, political leaders may be viewed as obstacles to the same development goals they seek to advance.  

This may be bad news for those seeking parliamentary offices so they can control CDF activities. Their enthusiasm might be moderated by the unforgiving actions of watchful voters.

Prof Juma teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous.“Our MPs Should Keep off CDF.” Business Daily, December 20, 2007.

The Author

Calestous Juma