Thursday, October 28, 2021

Gaolathe sees a lot of ‘confusion’ around Constituency Fund

Acting on the conviction that the government doesn’t know whether it is coming or going with its Constituency Fund, the Parliamentary Caucus of the Umbrella for Democratic Change has reworked the Fund in an attempt to give it sharper focus.

Another one of President Ian Khama’s initiatives, the Fund focuses on seven areas: Environment (planting of trees, cleaning the environment and establishment of parks in open spaces); Public Health (public health seminars, mobile clinics and improvement of health infrastructure); Education (extra-lessons for struggling students and additional facilities for schools, students and teachers); Sports and the Arts (sports and arts training clinics for the youth, aiding access to sporting, arts and music facilities, coordination of events and development of sport fields); Community Safety and Security (coordination of neighbourhood-watch initiatives, procurement of security cameras and others); Infrastructure (financing of backlogs in infrastructure projects, including sewerage, dilapidated schools, clinics, and roads); and Small, Medium Enterprise and Business Development (training of hawkers and business-people on management and facilitating business development by supporting initiatives for access to funding and markets).

To some, the bracketed detail might seem adequate but not to the UDC Caucus which, through its Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Ndaba Gaolathe, has attempted an improvement on the manner in which the Fund will be administered. The MP bluntly states that the government is “confused” about what it actually wants to do with the P10 million per constituency it has put into the Fund. All told, there are 57 constituencies.

While he makes the point that it is necessary to give all the stated community development initiatives equal attention, Gaolathe is quick to point out that a one-size-fits-all approach would be terribly misguided.

“Each community may attach more value towards one category compared to another community. Rural communities may prioritise public health much more than urban communities while the latter may wish to invest much more in the safety and security of their neighborhoods,” says the MP, adding that each community funds must not be invested in one category.

His own suggestion is that the Fund should consider the need to be sustainable, have a high impact on key areas that are important for residents, be transparent from the perspective of residents, be both broad-based and equitable, be supportive of self-reliance and meet a need that the normal government budget process fails to meet. In reworking the stipulated categories, Gaolathe ends up with five sectors on which the Fund monies should be invested: Health and Social Services (health education and seminars, equipping of hospitals and clinics, expansion of clinics and hospitals, social grants for the less privileged, projects relating to people living with disabilities, orphans and the under-privileged); Empowerment of Citizens (education initiatives, extra classes for students, expansions of schools, facilities and equipment for teachers and students in schools, laboratories, libraries and technology initiatives); Quality Environment, Culture, Sports and Creative Arts (planting of trees, cultural activities, choir, football, netball, athletics and sports development programmes, music development, art development, greening of open spaces including large spaces of green grass and its maintenance, sewerage and sanitation and paving of internal roads); Safety and Security (street lighting, area security cameras, boom gates and porta camps for police); and Entrepreneurship and Business (part of the money being used to support SME training, technology uptake initiatives and some of it invested in shares so that the community can start its own wealth fund for the future).

As MP of a Gaborone constituency, Gaolathe asserts that “based on needs and aspirations that are well recognised and documented”, this portfolio allocation is particularly relevant for Gaborone. For each of those sectors, the investment may be on three types of expenditure: infrastructure, facilities and other expenses.

In his allocation, the lion’s share (60 percent) is equally divided between the sectors of Empowerment of Citizens and Quality Environment, Culture, Sports and Creative Arts. Health and Social Services gets 20 percent while the remainder (20 percent) is equally divided between Safety and Security and Entrepreneurship and Business.

The process Gaolathe recommends is that the first step should entail each constituency agreeing on the broad allocation of the Fund in terms of the sectors he proposes.  Thereafter, stakeholders should be invited to make submissions for the sectors under which their projects or ideas fall. 

“The governing body (the decision-makers) should delegate the assessment of the projects to a technical team which, in turn, would forward their recommendations and assessments to the governing body.  The governing body should call public hearings for the interview of finalists recommended by the technical assessors,” the MP proposes. 

As to who is best suited to spend the money most prudently he nominates community trusts of any nature – health trusts, environmental trusts, sports trusts, safety and security trusts and others. He describes them as “self-starters” who are naturally passionate about their own work which is why they would have established their trusts even without the Constituency Fund.

“You will find that some of the individuals and groups only emerge when there is money available. Without being prejudicial, I think this is something that we need to be careful about,” says Gaolathe, adding however that “new community trusts should also be appropriate for purposes of realizing community interests.  The initiative should also be open to other NGOs, SMEs, Parent Teacher Associations, Village Development Committees and even individuals who are able to meet the outlined criteria.”

As regards performance measuring and monitoring, his proposal is that the governing body should assign such task to a technical group “with a view to reporting on the performance of projects in the form of public hearings, on a quarterly basis, or as and when required.”

The Constituency Fund came out of the blue and a letter to the editor penned by Gantsi North MP, Noah Salakae, suggests that the government doesn’t expect MPs to make any meaningful input in the administration of the Fund.

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