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India's MPs, like Jamaica's, want more CDF money

By HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 27, 2014    

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DELHI, India — Jamaica's much-spoken-of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) has its counterpart, with the exact name, in India. And the rules and benefits have glaring similarities.

Go a step further, and there is also common ground among parliamentarians in both countries that the money allocated to them is woefully inadequate for them to carry out programmes and implement projects on behalf of their constituents.

All told, the CDF is so named in 23 other countries, but not all, including Trinidad & Tobago, have dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's due, based upon the territory, to political hiccups.

Jamaican members of parliament now benefit from a CDF grant of $15 million annually, which is used to assist them in the daily grind of running their constituencies, made so by nagging demands from the people who elected the politicians.

While not every citizen on the voters' list is looking in the direction of the MPs for handouts to assist with education-related activities, farming, sports and other projects, a vast number of people expect their elected representatives to meet some of their daily needs and even engage in activities which do not meet the criteria set by the CDF's managers.

Sandwiched in this are the usual allegations of corruption, even though approval of projects and programmes often pass through the CDF office, which is housed in the Office of the Prime Minister in Jamaica.

India's CDF is also under question. Like Jamaica, fingers have been pointed at how the fund is administered, by people on the outside who keep sniffing away as they try to pick up the aroma of potential skulduggery.

MPs are always hitting back, though — all 543 of the elected ones in the Lower House — saying, usually, that the money allocated to them is inadequate. There are arguments for, and against that seemingly common position of the legislators, who are insisting that they need to satisfy the 814-million electorate, 540-million of whom voted in the general election held last May.

There are also 245 members of the Upper House of Parliament who are chosen directly from the states and who are not classified as members of parliament.

In Jamaica, the system of representation is based upon population size and geographical significance.

In India, too, population size forms the basis of MP representation and it comes down to what can be done by each MP for the average two million people whom he serves per constituency, in this populous country of over 1.2 billion people.

The allocation to each Indian MP under this country's CDF is roughly US$1 million per year, and they are forever moaning that the equivalent that they are allocated in rupees, India's official currency, cannot even start key projects that they believe will not only get them re-elected at the end of a five-year governance term, but by an even greater majority.

"The Constituency Development Fund has brought a lot of functional efficiency to Parliament," said veteran Indian journalist Dr A Surya Prakash.

"This is not your typical Westminster model. This is where an MP can step in and do something like building a school. In my travels, people will be very angry with MPs, and will ask questions like 'where have you been all these years?' ...It happens to many MPs," Dr Prakash said of the Indian CDF, which is governed by a committee of Parliament that includes members of both houses.

The salary paid to an MP is also at issue here, particularly because many of them have accumulated wealth from their various enterprises, such as legal and other practices, before they entered elective politics. With the full-time job of overseeing constituencies with large numbers of people, they, too, are lamenting that what they get as salaries can do precious little.

The average MP gets the equivalent of US$2,000 per month, about US$500 of which is used to pay a secretary provided by the State.

An MP, particularly one who represents people in regions far from the capital of Delhi, does benefit greatly from other perquisites, including 34 air trips per year, free accommodation in Delhi, unlimited travel on the train, motor vehicle allowances, among others.

But with debates raging in Parliament all the time, and MPs reaching the point of anger whereby they appear to want to get physical on occasions, there is certain to be continued verbal activity regarding the matter of increasing the CDF, and the related issue of stepping up the salaries of MPs.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, led by India's 15th Prime Minister Narendra Modi, won the last general election with an outright majority over the coalition inspired by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who also served as finance minister.

The main opposition party in Parliament remains the Indian National Congress Party, which is headed by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, widow of former Congress party leader and assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Rajiv's mother, Indira Ghandi, also served as prime minister of India and she, too, was killed by rebels.

One of Sonia Gandhi's two sons, Rahul, who is also a member of the Congress party, is highly touted here as being of prime ministerial material.

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