CHAIRMAN of the Constituency Development Fund People's National Party Member of Parliament for Eastern Hanover Dr D K Duncan has defended the integrity of the programme which is being increasingly tagged as "a political pork barrel" arguing that the Fund is being painted unfairly because of internal party friction.
The veteran politician made the observation yesterday after several committee members called for further public education about the operations of the fund, stating that ignorance was driving the attacks against its operation.
Government Member of Parliament for Eastern St Andrew Andre Hylton told the committee that a recent CDF consultation in his constituency showed that there was misunderstanding about the operations of the Fund. "A lot of persons didn't understand how the CDF work, persons literally believe MPs have the money in their pocket," the MP said.
Colleague Government MPs Denise Daley and Dr Dayton Campbell, at the same time, said some clear signals needed to be given as to how the funds are disbursed.
"It would not do us any harm to do public education as to how the CDF is expended," Daley said in response to South West St Catherine Member of Parliament Everald Warmington's insistence that constituency consultations should precede the proposal submissions for all projects. "If that was being done persons would not be confused about the programme," Warmington said.
"It (consultations) would be useful," said Government MP for North West Manchester Mikael Phillips. "The Gleaner editorial is always beating up on us that it is pork barrel, it would not hurt if there was a national educational support from the CDF unit to assist us with the battering we are getting from our constituents and also nationally from the media," he added.
Dr Duncan, in agreeing, said while some constituents had a grasp of how the programme operated there were still grey areas for some.
"I totally agree that there needs to be some element of public education. It is true that individual constituencies who follow the guidelines might not have difficulties, especially where you have members of parliament who have a command of their constituencies in a particular kind of way. This issue has arisen because of many other complex factors which have very little to do with the CDF itself except that at the outset there are certain forces in the society who were not in favour of a CDF in any case no matter how it was run," he said.
Dr Duncan added that the changes under the programme since it had started might also have served to add to the suspicions about its operation but said the foundational principles remained the same.
"At the beginning of the CDF Fund there was $40 million available to Members of Parliament, then it was reduced to $20 million and it is now $15 million. At the outset there were certain guidelines in relation for example that no one category should be expended on over 50 per cent... as time has progressed, as the quantitative thing increased but the need for example for educational assistance has increased, the thing has shifted and more funds have gone to education," he said.
"...We have very good guidelines and most MPs are following those guidelines but what has happened in my view is that the complexities of our internal party struggles are making it look as if the CDF is part of that problem. I support the view that we enlighten the country at large as to how the fund operates but let us not forget that it is more complex than we are making it to be," Dr Duncan told the committee.