The next Parliament must be encouraged to shun the annual ritual of appropriating for its members, five per cent of the District Assemblies Common Fund ostensibly to engage in developmental projects.
That practice appears of doubtful constitutionality. It’s an affront on the principles that encourages decentralisation, the very reason for which the Fund was created.
The DA Common Fund is the ultimate funding instrument for decentralised local governance which was introduced with the coming into force of the 1992 constitution. The constitutional requirement for legislation on the Fund was met in 1993 with the passage of the DA Common Fund, Act, 1993, Act 455.
The Fund was expected to be resourced by a minimum of five per cent of the total national annual revenue. That means five per cent of the entire receipts that pours into the government’s coffers, including grants, are to be lodged into the Fund for onward distribution to Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDCEs).
This disbursement from the national treasury was intended to make local government units somewhat independent and usher in a regime that gradually shifts from the centralised governance we have practiced since independence in 1957 to a more inclusive one that takes seed in every district in the country.
It was supposed to resource local government authorities to be capable of executing high budget infrastructural projects that meets the needs of their communities. And to a larger extent, to bring government closer to the governed and help improve public administration by empowering local authorities to be the planning and decision-making bodies in the affairs of their communities.
It was not intended as ‘gifts’ for MPs to engage in developmental projects or for any other purpose.
What brought about this ‘anomaly’ of giving each MP a percentage of the DA Common Fund is actually an indictment on the legislature. The story is told that when the then Minister of Local Government, Professor Kwamena Ahwoi took the DA Common Fund Bill to Parliament for approval in 1993, the MPs succeeded in twisting his arms to allocate some of the funds to them.
The MPs argued that they needed some funds for ‘emergency relief’ in their districts but the Prof. Ahwoi reminded them that allocating a percentage of the Fund to the MPs would be inconsistent with the 1992 constitution.
However, although Prof. Ahwoi was reluctant in the beginning, he had to amend the original Bill to include the five per cent appropriation for the MPs just so that they would get the all-important Bill passed.
The practice amounts to a breach of the 1992 constitution as Parliament is required under Article 254 of the same constitution to enact laws and take steps to further the decentralisation agenda and not to exercise any control over the Fund that is incompatible with the decentralised status of local government authorities.
In fact, the mandate of parliamentarians is to help enact laws and execute oversight duties on government activities and not to engage in procurement and the award of contracts for infrastructural projects.
When MP's are called upon to support development, especially when it has to do with infrastructure, they are quick to say that is not their mandate. Good. That is right in the face of the law but certainly can’t be fair to the people who vote them into power because MPs pocket a whooping five percent of the DA Common Fund which should be channeled into such projects.
Another disturbing aspect of this annual disbursement to MPs is that there is no accountability on how the money is spent. Unlike the rest of the DA Common Fund that goes to the Assembly, which is accounted for to the Public Account Committee of Parliament, the portion that goes to MP’s are ‘freebies’. MPs render no accounts on how the money is spent to any authority in the country.
It is therefore not surprising that even internal party elections to select candidates have become a vicious and expensive venture. Much to the chagrin of the public, politicians outdo each other to bribe their way onto the ballot paper.
Trust in politicians have wane generally the world over and we must be mindful of that while we take steps to make parliament less of a lucrative venture for crude politicians to ensure that the little sacredness that hovers around that chamber today, doesn’t varnish entirely.
We must begin by scrapping the five per cent!