Parliamentarians and corruption – the problem or the solution? – Tearfund's Policy Blog

February 4, 2013 by Melissa Lawson

Tearfund partners EFZ with APNAC Zambia Chair, Hon. Cornelius Mweetwa MP

This week the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) 5th conference has been taking place in Manila.  But is this just another conference where we meet, talk and then return home with little change?  Should Parliamentarians even be included in the anti-corruption movement when they are often the worst offending corruptors? 

Parliamentarians can be a force for change.  But I also know that they are too often key contributors.  Research conducted on the Zambian Constituency Development Fund (CDF) by Tearfund and our partner the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) has demonstrated this. Where Parliamentarians and others in the CDF process failed to exercise transparency and community participation then CDF projects were often found incomplete, unused, or susceptible to allegations of the misuse of funds.

CDFs are present in at least 23 countries and have the one defining feature that the Parliamentarian has some control over the use of the fund in their constituency.  In Zambia, constituencies receive approximately $200,000 per annum which is intended for local development.  The MP sits on, and appoints, the majority of the CDF committee who control the use of the fund – quite shocking from a UK perspective (and takes the expenses scandal to a new level!). 

Despite the challenges and allegations, in Zambia the CDF is a widely popular fund.  Perhaps because it is a more ‘visible’ form of development and decentralisation policy.  For example the CDF has been used to construct school buildings, clinics and market shelters. 

But Parliamentarians can take certain actions to enhance the effectiveness of this fund.  In the case of one constituency, Choma, the CDF enabled a prison clinic to be extended in order to provide services for the surrounding community.  The research indicated that the community were satisfied with the project and the clinic remains well used.  In this example, transparency and participation were seen throughout the CDF process, in particular:

i) Participation in identifying projects: the community identified the project as an area of need and therefore applied for CDF funding.  ii) Transparency in decision-making process: the CDF committee made public its reasoning for funding the project on local notice boards and the community radio stations.iii) Community involvement in project implementation: community members contributed labour and materials.iv) Transparency in procurement: materials were sourced by suppliers recommended by the local community.  At the clinic, the CDF committee kept a log book of all suppliers and materials delivered, which local people were free to check.

v) Transparency and participation in monitoring: progress reports were posted in public places and feedback was sought from the community at public meetings.

So what can we learn, and what actions can Parliamentarians do to ensure better use of local development funds?  At the GOPAC conference EFZ and Tearfund presented the need for Parliamentarians to:

  • Enhance transparency, ensuring that information is useful and understandable at the local level. 
  • Promote meaningful community participation throughout the process, from the decision making to the monitoring of projects.
  • Reduce the level of influence that the Parliamentarians have over decisions on the use of CDFs.

These aspects may not be the panacea – but the research indicates that they can make a difference to the outcome of local development projects.  So it is great that in the closing ceremony the African Parliamentarian Network Against Corruption (APNAC) noted their intention to work to reform CDF practices.   So let’s continue to call on Parliamentarians to model best practice and urge them to become key partners in the fight against corruption.