'We want more'
Calls for CDF increase gain traction in House

THE call for an increase in the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) gained momentum in the House of Representatives on Wednesday with three Government Members of Parliament (MPs) proclaiming, like the Charles Dickens character Oliver Twist, that they "want more".

Ann-Marie Vaz, who represents Portland Eastern; Dr Norman Dunn, the MP for St Mary South Eastern; and Manchester Southern's Robert Chin were making their contributions to the state of the constituency debate a day after Mikael Phillips, who represents Manchester North Western, and Rhoda Moy Crawford from Manchester Central both stated that the funds allocated to MPs were not enough to meet the needs of their constituents.

On Wednesday Vaz proposed that the CDF, which now stands at $20 million, be increased to $54 million for each MP and that a task force set up to review the allocations every five years.

"Imagine the decrease in the value of the CDF since its inception in 2008. The CDF has depreciated by a whopping 173 per cent! Based on inflation rates, in order for the CDF to have the same value now as in 2008 it would have to be increased to $54 million, according to the world data inflation calculator," she said.

Noting that the CDF is the main source of funding for her constituency, Vaz argued that "there is no way $20 million is adequate to make a meaningful impact on any of the… projects [that need to be undertaken]".

She pointed out that the CDF is used for various purposes — including housing, agriculture, welfare, economic enablement, sports, bushing, drain-cleaning, roads, other infrastructure, Labour Day projects, and to pay an administrative assistant.

Vaz said an increase in the CDF must be considered, given the fact that costs for materials have been increasing. She noted that ply, zinc, and cement — the most frequently requested items to undertake projects — have seen noticeable increases in prices over the last few years.

"In 2019, when I just became MP, a sheet of ply was $3,700; a bag of cement $1,000; and a sheet of eight-feet zinc, $3,100. Now the prices have increased to $6,000, $1,500, and $3,300, respectively. This is roughly a 38.4 per cent increase, and this is only over three years," she lamented.

Vaz also echoed Phillips's sentiment in his contribution on Tuesday that the CDF cannot be the same for rural and urban constituencies as both have different needs.

She further argued that "a constituency with five divisions cannot get the same allocation as a constituency with three divisions".

Dr Dunn, during his turn at the lectern, also called for the CDF to be increased "significantly".

He, too, is in agreement that similar allocations should not be given to rural and urban MPs, arguing that "rural MPs have greater needs than urban MPs in terms of road rehabilitation".

Dunn, who is also the minister of state for industry, investment and commerce, posited that roads in rural areas have been neglected for many years, therefore, greater allocation must be made to rural MPs to fix their roads.

"It is also difficult to traverse these [rural] constituencies. It comes at great expense, both physically and economically, due to the fuel consumption and the constant wear and tear on your vehicle," he said.

He also voiced his support for St Mary Western MP Robert Montague's recent call for the reallocation of the CDF money to other MPs if it is not being utilised by the MPs to whom it has been disbursed.

Meanwhile, Chin, in his contribution to the debate, "strongly" recommended that constituencies be allocated a minimum of $40 million per division for infrastructure development, noting that allowing for this increase is a simple feat for Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke to achieve.

"The genius that our finance minister is, it's just a matter of shuffling items on the budget," Chin said.

He said that an increase in the CDF "would eliminate the need for an MP to be at the mercy of any minister or ministry".

On Tuesday, Phillips had argued that the needs of constituents have increased over the last decade.

"In these 10 years inflation has increased by approximately 30 to 40 per cent. In 2012 a tonne of steel was under $60,000; it's over $120,000 now. The only tool we have to respond to the plight of our constituents have not changed in the last 10 years," he said, describing the situation as a travesty.

Crawford, in her contribution to the debate, had said that due to an insufficient allowance, new MPs have had to resort to executing their duties "through the kind contributions of the business community and from our salaries".

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter smitha@jamaicaobserver.com

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