TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) would like to sincerely commend the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for putting in measures that will ensure that its support towards the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) will improve and benefit our rural populace with improved sanitation and clean water.
These are two important areas contributing to a clean bill of health of any person and the general health and wellbeing of anyone to enable a person to contribute productively in any given society. And that is good sanitation and access to clean water. Citizens need access to clean water and a clean environment free from open defecation. The saying “Health is Wealth” sums up why these are vital areas that needs to be addressed in this country. One’s health and wellbeing determine one’s ability to work – whether in the rural areas or in town, doing something that is beneficial to his/her living and sustaining his/her survival. Being sick handicaps a person, it can lead to being unable to put food on the table and providing the needs of your family or yourself. So definitely, Health is wealth, but to achieve good health begins with having access to some essential elements including but not limited to clean water and proper sanitation. Availability and accessibility to clean water is fundamental to being healthy thus being healthy is complemental to have access to these essentials like to water and proper sanitation. Sadly, a high number of communities in Solomon Islands still practice open defecation as such China must be commended for identifying this as an important area that must be addressed by members of Parliament through the use and support of the CDF to improve the general livelihood of the people of Solomon Islands-availability of water and supporting sanitation projects. The CDF Act requires MPs to prepare a development plan based on constituency development office profile as a basis for addressing and disbursing the CDF. MPs must produce their constituency development profiles clearly identifying the areas that will be supported through the CDF including these important areas of having access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation.
According to World Bank, only 76 percent of urban households and 18 percent of rural households in Solomon Islands have access to basic sanitation. This shows how our rural villages were left out on important development necessary for their health and survival. The revelation by Permanent Secretary (PS) for Ministry of Rural Development (MRD) during the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting last week that PRC reminds MPs to use $360,000 of their $1.8 million on water and sanitation projects is welcoming. It is good that PRC as a donor itself in the controversial CDF is having the same concern as citizens to ensure the fund is put into good use rather than spending on hand to mouth expenditures, which only worsen poverty. It is the health of the people that is paramount in order for a society to become wealthy. If the government can allocate millions in the name of constituency development, then it is important that there are measures set in place to ensure that these funds are actually used to develop constituencies. There must be strong enforcements of this CDF Act and the consequences of MPs not adhering to this must not be ignored but be punished accordingly for any such misuse and abuse of public funds. MPs must produce their development plans to show their plans to develop their constituencies and must use the CDF according to the purposes of having CDF – develop constituency and not rallying support or ‘voter only’ support. Transparency Solomon Islands see this as the right approach and thus, call on the Ministry responsible and China as donor supporting CDF to monitor the use and disbursement of CDF seeing that the history of the use of CDF in this country is controversial and fails to achieve its purpose in this country.
TSI also noted that PRC is providing assistance through CDF in a form of material goods that will be directly supplied for projects and not cash payments. TSI welcome the news and calls on all stakeholders responsible – Ministry responsible and donor partner – to be vigilant in monitoring the use of CDF to ensure that there are no bogus retirement reports. The CDF Act requires that once a Constituency Development Plan is produced, it must be referred to the Ministry responsible for approval prior to allocation of funds as grants. Such grant must be paid into a Constituency Development Bank Account.
TSI understands that some issues raised from concerned constituents include the misuse and abuse of CDF to fund and purchase MPs personal assets, goods and services. In many cases some MPs became rich overnight from the CDF and assets purchased with CDF under the name of constituencies are now private owned properties, and this practice continues after an MP loses his/her parliamentary seat. This is the practice that continues to corrupt the fund intended to put into good use to improve the lives of constituents. As such, whilst the news that China will not provide cash but only supply materials for projects under CDF is the way forward for this country to see CDF translated into tangible development in the constituency, it is also important to monitor and ensure that funds and projects are for the benefit and development of the constituency. TSI supports the contribution into the CDF that calls for better sanitation and clean water and the support in the form of materials supplied for projects tagged under CDF. We learned from the past and make improvement by taking this approach should be the right step in the right direction. CDF being channeled through MPs for the constituencies have been highly susceptible to abuse as such TSI calls for stronger measures to penalties for abuse of CDF. Each MP will receive $6.8 million as CDF this year despite public concerns over other important areas needing government support but were either reduced or totally cut off. Taxpayers deserve justice for this CDF and MPs must inform their constituents on how his/her constituency will spend its $6.8 million, what areas will be covered in the development plans and must also inform the people about the constituency CDF retirement.