AFTER the adjournment of Parliament earlier this month, leader of Government Business in the House, Vice-President Guy Scott urged members of Parliament (MPs) to visit their constituencies during the time the House was on recess.
The call by Dr Scott is not meant for only those belonging to the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) but each and every MP that was elected by his constituents.
For development to take place, it has to start from the constituencies.
This is where MPs play a critical role to monitor the various projects that are being implemented by the Government.
Visitations by MPs are vital as they help them to meet the people they represent and make them answerable.
The more than 150 MPs need to go out and report to their constituents, discuss and monitor development projects and see challenges that arise in the process, so that when the House resumes sitting sometime in June this year, they will continue the debate on development and make Government answerable.
Several MPs have so far undertaken various ventures in their areas as reported in the media and hats off to them.
It is also important to bear in mind the need to ensure proper use of the Constituency Development Funds (CDF) for the intended purposes and beneficiaries.
The need to ensure proper use and management of CDF is the responsibility of all the people in respective constituencies and it should start from here and does not need to reflect in the audit reports by the Auditor General, as had been the case in previous years.
Without CDF, development projects would not be undertaken at constituency level.
The report also comes in the light of some MPs expressing the need to increase allocations.
This, however, cannot be done in the absence of strict monitory measures and lack of adherence to CDF guidelines.
Last week the column aired concerns on the importance of the CDF.
In a similar score the Auditor General Anna Chifungula issued her latest report on CDF management and grants to local authorities.
The revelations in the 2012 audit did not bring smiles but it was saddening to note the gravity of misuse in the manner the CDF is being managed by the local authorities, ranging from diverting the funds
to hefty allowances and purchasing second-hand machinery as well as fraudulent contact deals.
The revelations are surely disheartening, because at a time when the Government is focused on engineering development on a wide scale, officials entrusted with public office are also busy enriching themselves.
Following this development, it is gratifying to note that the Ministry of Local Government and Housing has issued a strong warning against those breaching CDF guidelines.
Ministry of Local Government and Housing’s former permanent secretary, Howard Sikwela, issued a statement on the misuse of the Funds and here is a verbatim version:
“It has come to the attention of the ministry that some councils have paid for heavy duty earth-moving equipment such as graders which have not yet been delivered, in some cases as long as two years after making the payments.
I wish to direct that all councils that have paid for any goods or services that have not yet been delivered to ensure that the procured items are delivered in accordance with the signed contracts.
It is the responsibility of councils to pursue the suppliers and ensure that the contractual obligations are met without fail.
Those councils who have paid suppliers in full before receiving the equipment or vehicles, or before completion of works will be directed to refund the paid amounts in case of the suppliers or contractors defaulting on their obligations.
The ministry will also consider options for other sanctions on the concerned officers and councils, such as prosecuting individual officers and withholding further disbursement of CDF to such councils until they have fully accounted for the disbursed funds.
Another issue which is of grave concern to the ministry are the reports concerning some councils that have bought second-hand vehicles.
Second-hand vehicles under Government regulations are considered to be write-offs and no public funds should be used on buying such obsolete equipment.
The ministry, therefore, in line with observations by the Auditor General’s report, will treat all cases of buying second-hand equipment as miss-procurement, which attracts necessary sanctions.
I wish to also direct the councils that may have used more than the allowed K20,000 from the total CDF on monitoring and evaluation exercises, or paid allowances using CDF, to immediately reimburse such funds.
I should warn town clerks and council secretaries that if they fail to recover such misapplied funds, they will face disciplinary action.
The purpose of the CDF is to facilitate implementation of tangible community projects that will make an impact on alleviating poverty and improving the lives of the majority of the citizens in the respective constituencies and districts.
Anyone who abuses CDF is, therefore, working against the public interest and should face the consequences of abusing tax payers’ money.
I also wish to urge those councils who have not yet utilised the 2013 CDF to immediately identify eligible projects and fund them. I should, however, hasten to warn that there should be no short-cuts to the laid-down procurement regulations on the pretext that such projects are an emergency.
My ministry will strengthen monitoring and auditing of all projects that are being undertaken by the councils to ensure value for money.
We will also ensure that culprits in abusing public funds are accordingly prosecuted.
The ministry is attentive to the concerns being raised by the various stakeholders regarding the use or misuse of CDF and we will continue exploring effective means of promoting increased transparency and accountability for improved service delivery.
Government is concerned and saddened with the way CDF is being misapplied by some councils. Why should more than 10 constituencies keep on paying one company or supplier when this supplier has failed to deliver?”
It is hoped that following the statement by Reverend Sikwela, action would follow those that had misused the funds. The law should take its course and, without favour, bring culprits to face justice as no one has the right to be an obstacle to development, which is the desire of all Zambians.