A one day public hearing on Constituencies Development Catalyst Fund Bill, which was sponsored by Senator Buhari Abdulfatai was organized by Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) in collaboration with the Senate Committee on Poverty Alleviation. The objective of the public hearing was to provide a platform for public discussions on Constituency Development Funds (CDFs) through a proposition of a legal framework that seeks to address concerns that the CDF is a tool for the embezzlement of funds rather than an intended vehicle for development. The Bill attempts to address the democratic-deficit in citizen participation in governance by encouraging economic development and participation at the grassroots and also create a legal framework for Constituencies Development Funds.
In the public hearing, Senator Buhari, remarked that there was an urgent need for the bill to be adopted as it will help bring about transparency and accountability thereby ensuring that the constituents get a feeling of the commonwealth. He stated that Zambia has been operating it since 1995 while it is also being implemented in Ghana.
The CDF bill tends to apply to all Federal Constituencies in Nigeria. The Clause 4 establishes a Constituency Project Development Board to administer the funds allocated for Constituencies. Charges and expenditure from the fund shall be made in accordance with financial regulations, the Public Procurement Act as well as other provision in the bill. The Minister of Finance –Under clause 17(1) of the bill, the Council Planning Officer is to submit annual returns to the minister of Finance no later than 60 days after the end of every financial year. Allowable projects under the bill were not specifically indicated or listed, but the bill provides that they should be community based development projects with benefits that would be available to a wide section of inhabitants of the area in question.
It was such a rich and engaging deliberation as fundamental observation and questions were raised which includes that the objectives of the Bill does not explicitly state the percentage of the annual budget that will be allocated to the Constituency Development Catalyst Fund and merely refers to a portion of the Federal Annual Budget. Also the composition of the Constituency Development Catalyst Committee in clause 10(c ) mandates that one of the councilors in the committee should be a woman. What happens where no woman has been elected as a counselor in the relevant Constituency? There is also no indication in the Bill on how all of the bureaucracy created by it will be funded. Lastly the currency for the fine in clause 28 (1) should be changed from shillings to Naira.
It is also imperative to know that there is a similar Constituency Projects (Budgetary) Provisions Bill, 2016 sponsored by Sen. Stella Oduah that passed second reading on 8th December, 2016 and also a Constituency Development Fund Bill Sponsored by Sen. Ali Ndume that has passed first reading on 9th November, 2016. Similarly, in the House of Representatives such Bill exists which has apparently passed second reading and I ask “can’t these Bills be consolidated to have one Bill”?
I sincerely hope that the questions and recommendations made during the public hearing would be considered, as the Bill if enforced, its mechanism is likely to enhance citizen participation in the administration, management, monitoring and evaluation of funds that could bring about socio-economic development, empowerment, transparency and accountability in the constituencies.
Ijeoma Oforka is a Program Officer at Connected Development, with a background in Public Health. She is passionate about advocating for the plights and issues surrounding women and girls health and education. She tweets via @ijoforka