THE increase in the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) from K1.6 million in this year’s Budget to the colossal K25.7 million in the 2022 Budget, has continued to divide public opinion, with some people describing it variously as unrealistic, wishful thinking, impractical.
Weighing in on the debate yesterday, President Hakainde Hichilema has said that the mammoth increment in CDF in the 2022 Budget is not a mistake, but a deliberate plan to improve service delivery in all the 150 constituencies across the country.
Addressing delegates at the 65th Local Government Association of Zambia (LGAZ) annual conference in Lusaka yesterday, President Hichilema stressed the need for mindset change within Local Government to enable people in constituencies receive better services.
In truth, there cannot be too much CDF. Anyone who has any idea of the pressing needs facing rural constituents knows even the K26m proposed for each constituency is just a drop in the ocean of a myriad of needs.
From inadequate schools and associated facilities to too few hospitals with the right levels of the needed equipment, to lack of clean water, unserviced feeder roads and everything in between, such as lack of decent housing and electricity.
All these have contrived to make rural life hard for those unable to get away and unattractive for civil servants that government wishes to deploy to carry out important work, such as teachers, health workers, agricultural officers, etc.
The proposed increase in CDF has taken all these concerns into consideration, with Mr Hichilema hinting in recent comments that the funding was set to grow even bigger in years to come. This is where mindset change comes in.
MPs, traditional leaders and all those to be involved in the decisions on how these resources are to be spent need to stop ‘thinking small’. Proper short and long-term strategic planning is needed for the full benefits of such huge amounts of money going into constituencies every year.
Increased resources call for serious business planning to ensure that the CDF is used prudently in a non- consumptive manner.
This means part of the allocation must be invested in profitable schemes that support women and youth empowerment, as well as local business growth, to provide jobs and markets at community level.
For example, expansion of savings groups, such as the village banking concept, has in a number of cases changed livelihoods of local people, such as women, who have even managed to venture into small businesses.
Such are ideas that should be expanded.
Therefore, MPs, working with councils, council chairpersons and councillors, now have the task to start thinking in business terms to ensure that the CDF allocation, as the president said, is invested to create money making opportunities for the local people.
It should be invested in schemes that support and grow local businesses, because when such businesses grow, they provide revenue to the economy through the Local Government structure.
It is time the Local Government started working in tandem with Central Government so that through CDF, people’s livelihoods can start changing for the better, while at the same time, Local Government can start creating its own wealth.
With political will from the highest office in the land, Local Government must no longer be a spectator, but the key driver of development.