THE recent furore surrounding Government Member of Parliament Damion Crawford and his allocation of resources in his East Rural St Andrew constituency has resurrected the debate over the use of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and the role of good political representatives.
Off the bat, I must state that I fully understand and have experienced Crawford's passion for education and therefore know of the genuine desire to see the educational development of the people he represents.
His education drive is not restricted to politics as he was instrumental in the tutoring of one of my sons who was having trouble with a subject at university, and I have to personally say thanks to him for his assistance and commitment to education.
But as recent publication has shown, every MP — on both sides of the political divide — is committed to education and has spent a big portion of their CDF in this area. What is often not shown, however, is the millions spent by MPs from other sources.
In my case, while I have spent $3 million from the CDF on education so far this year and a further $7 million has been spent through the West Portland Education Fund — which is financed through fundraising and corporate contributions totalling $10 million — I am aware that I am not unique in this case as others including Andrew Holness, Mike Henry, Dr Omar Davies and Dr Peter Phillips also have well-established education schemes in their constituencies.
What we are seeing playing out in the case of Damion and other Government MPs is not a dispute about spending on education as against "letting off state funds". The majority of people in East Rural St Andrew and, for that matter, other constituencies, agree on the importance of education for their children.
Yes, there is in every constituency and society, the misguided who were weaned on the "let off" politics and freeness mentality introduced by some notable names in our political history from the 1970s, but the majority of Jamaicans, even the poor and unemployed, are not waiting around for their MP to "let off". They want work and want to see their children properly educated.
The problem in Crawford's constituency, which is being played out in so many others, is that they (MPs) were "parachuted" into the constituency at the 11th hour. Some still don't even know their constituency boundaries, the districts, communities or even their key workers, much less the constituents they represent.
This is compounded by these new MPs who have been given government roles, and instead of taking time to get to know their constituency and constituents, they visit the constituency infrequently, if at all, and make decisions in isolation.
No one could say it better than former Prime Minister P J Patterson who, last Sunday, used the platform of the People's National Party's annual conference to warn Comrades about abandoning the people. These MPs who are "Missing In Action" are the ones who are facing turmoil and until, or unless, the constituents come to believe and trust that their political representatives are genuinely concerned about them and that they are there to serve them, they we will continue to have fallout. My own political motto is "serve the people and they will serve you".
The leadership of the two major political parties need to have a serious look at the practice of putting persons into a constituency for expediency or because they are wanted to be part of the Government. Too many people enter representational politics with the hope of getting a ministerial post rather than because of a genuine desire to serve the people they represent.
If a person's only ambition is to become a minister then they should serve in Parliament through the Senate and leave representational politics to those who genuinely have a desire to serve the people.
One newspaper continues to champion its misgivings about the CDF and its role and functions. The PNP's Julian Robinson, like me, has already tried to educate that paper about the legitimate use of the CDF money allocated to MPs under the programme. If 63 legislators of billions of dollars cannot access for their constituency $15 million each — $945 million — and not be grudged then maybe it is time for the critics to enter representational politics and take over the running of the country.
The CDF is managed and operated in a transparent manner with the necessary checks and balances that can be accessed and I once again repeat my offer to allow access to all my CDF transactions over the last four years to be scrutinised and audited by any group or body and I renew my invitation to come to West Portland, inspect my projects and enjoy the only pork there — 'JERK PORK'.
The needs of the less fortunate are many and genuine and, therefore, any MP could spend his entire allocation of $15 million on legitimate cases of welfare in his constituency and still not nearly satisfy all the genuine needs. It is also important to note that the CDF, in many cases, has to be used to implement infrastructure projects which are the responsibility of the parish council and other government agencies and departments which are under-funded and, therefore, unable to maintain or upgrade the facilities and infrastructure under their control.
The continuous badgering of the CDF in a section of the media has been going on for far too long and the time has finally come for them to "put up or shut up". I urge the Press Association of Jamaica and/or the Media Association of Jamaica to stage a formal debate which will allow for the public at large to have the true understanding of the CDF and its successes.
The real problem MPs, and, by extension, most Jamaicans face, is the absence of real and substantial economic growth over many decades and that is the issue the media and others should wage their campaign for.
As it stands now, the Jamaican phrase "water more than flour" aptly describes the situation facing MPs who daily face hardworking, proud Jamaicans who don't want to seek assistance but are forced to because they cannot get a day's work.
Let us as a country unite around policies that are going to grow our economy, create jobs and from this will come a reduction in crime.
I am on record as having supported Minister Omar Davies in his decision to push ahead with the three mega projects despite the opposition of the Office of the Contractor General and will continue to support all other investment initiatives which will give the Jamaican people a chance to gain employment after we MPs have spent multi-millions of dollars to help our constituents further their education.
In closing, my message to my friend and colleague Damion Crawford and other new MPs is to continue their education push but spend time with their people, get to know them so that they will trust you while ignoring the misguided few who believe that they should live by hand-outs.
Follow the advice of P J Patterson and be there for the people and you will see how quickly the majority of constituents will buy into your plans, once they are consulted and convinced that they are not just being used as stepping stones for persons to achieve political goals and then get caught in the trappings of political power.