2021 Budget.  More of the same!

Nov 18, 2020, 10:41 AM | Article By: Madi Jobarteh

once again, the Barrow Administration has provided budget estimates for 2021 only to reflect more of the same. This draft budget is not only irrelevant to the rights and needs of the people rather it is only intended to promote selfish political objectives hence pillage public wealth and entrench poverty. I hereby call on the National Assembly Members to totally reject these estimates.

Rather what should happen is for the National Assembly to draft its own budget and approve it and then send it to the Executive to implement accordingly. One of the fundamental purposes of the National Assembly is to distribute the national cake. This is why the Executive brings national budget estimates before them for review. Secondly, a budget is the second most important piece of legislation, next to only the Constitution. Thus, another function of the National Assembly is to make laws, hence nothing bars the National Assembly from drafting and approving a national budget and then give it to the Executive to enforce.

I will repeat once again that it is this National Assembly that will make or break the Gambia simply because it is this body that stands between Dictatorship and Democracy in the Gambia. In other words, it is this National Assembly that should institutionalise system change to deliver the Gambia to democracy and good governance. Failure to do that they would have maintained the Gambia as that same banana republic filled with abuse of power, corruption and inefficiency as it was under the Tyrant Yaya Jammeh.

Our NAMs must realise that, both individually and collectively they owe allegiance to no one but to the Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia. Under Section 112 of that Constitution, it says NAMs should only be guided by their conscience and the national interest. Hence our NAMs have a unique opportunity to either change or to maintain the status quo. If they wish to change then they must fundamentally change the budget making process of this country, as a start, in the interest of the people.

The reason the National Assembly should take active leadership and full control over the budget is because these draft estimates are not realistic and only represent fraud. For example,

  Why give OP D663 million but give only D156.6 to the National Assembly when it is the National Assembly which is the key accountability institution in the country. It has a mandate to monitor OP and all public institutions and society as a whole. How could they perform their duties if they are underfunded? It is because of this underfunding of the parliament that they have been largely ineffective since Independence.

    Similarly, why allocate D747.6 million to Defence yet give only D1.02 billion to Interior which houses the police, prisons,      immigration and drug agency? How big an army do we want? Our issues are not external defence challenges rather our focus should be to build strong law enforcement institutions. Despite so much money being given to the military it is sad to note that barracks across the country suffer from poor conditions while the lives of soldiers remain deplorable with poor salaries.

    Law enforcement agencies are severely under-resourced      which is basically the reason why there is a high incidence of corruption and inefficiency within them. Hence a realistic budget should have provided much more money to the Interior since we face a lot more internal security challenges than external defence issues. Visit any police and immigration      station or the prisons to realise the level of deprivation of these places!

    Similarly, the amount of money given to Foreign Affairs is unsustainable. This country has opened foreign offices in so      many countries unnecessarily. Rather the country needs more money to go to the Judiciary which is an entire State organ of its own, yet poorly funded. The need for effective justice delivery to ensure access to justice by the masses of Gambians warrants that this institution is well resourced.

    One wonders why would the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs be allocated the huge sum of D1.03 billion! To do what, when critical sectors such as Youth and Sports, or Justice got less than D150 million each, with the Ministry for Women, Children and Social Welfare being allocated a paltry D87 million!

    The need for more investment in sectors that serve women, children and social welfare is more than urgent. These are the      sectors that could make a whole lot of difference in ensuring a healthy population, guarantee equality and justice by ending social exclusion, discrimination and enhancing the education and development of girls and women and persons with disabilities among other marginalised groups hence spur national productivity.

    What is even more perplexing is ‘Centralised Services’ which is allocated a whopping D1.99 billion – the third highest      budget item after debt servicing D5.99 billion and MoBSE at D2.8 billion. What are ‘centralised services’ when in fact each and every ministry has its own recurrent and development budgets? Every public institution or civil service office has its own utility supply, internet, security, fuel supply, pool of vehicles and so on. What ‘services’ therefore exists for which offices share that will cost almost 2 billion dalasi? I hope NAMs will delete this dubious budget item as the first step!

In that regard, one can now see the reason for the high national debt given the amount of money being put into sectors that neither need that much money nor generate any revenue such as the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs itself. It is obvious that the allocation to this ministry will only go to unnecessary foreign travels and procurement of all sorts of goods and services that will not be used anyway. One evidence of that is the hiring of UK consultants, Ernst & Young LLP to conduct a forensic audit of 7 SOEs at a cost of millions of dalasi only for the Minister to ignore that final report when it came out in February 2019.

Similarly, another sector that highlights selfish interest is the Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure which has the fourth highest vote at D1.96 billion! Because of projects like the Banjul Road Rehabilitation Project, the Hakalang and Badibu road projects, the budget has shot up! A critical look at these projects will show that they do not meet due diligence standards and processes. Rather they are imposed to serve a particular purpose different from the welfare of the people which is being used as the pretext. These are indeed political projects intended to win the 2021 elections.

Look at the higher education, research and technology sector with a mere allocation of D224 million! Go to the UTG campuses and classrooms to see the poor state of their facilities which lack basic services such as efficient internet connectivity. Clearly it shows that this Government is not interested in building a strong human capital and guaranteeing economic growth and securing a better future for this country which is why this very important sector is neglected. Rather this Government wants quick and immediate things that they can use to hoodwink the poor masses into believing that they are working. Roads and bridges serve such purposes quite well.

NAMs must recall that in a span of 22 years there was no kind of infrastructure that the Jammeh Regime did not construct in this country. Yet after 22 years, not only are these infrastructures found to be substandard but also, they were procured in a way that was not transparent and in total disregard of due process.

Consequently, these massive infrastructure projects by AFPRC and APRC regimes have only made the country even more highly indebted and poorer. Look at the Banjul International Airport, for example, which was built in 1995 at a cost of 10 million dollars yet today it is being rehabilitated for 14 million dollars! How come within 25 years such a massive infrastructure would incur more money to renovate if it was indeed built properly in the first place?

But a serious Government would have looked at the strategic needs of its country and make objective investment decisions that will build stronger foundations for the nation. Yes, roads and bridges and other public infrastructures are utterly necessary. But it is foolhardy to invest all of your money into roads and bridges to the total neglect of investing in people. A smart and concerned Government would have identified other sources of funding that can build roads and bridges while investing national revenue into other strategic sectors of the nation.

What this 2021 draft budget reflects, as the other budgets before it, is that the Gambia has an inept and corrupt Government that is prepared to plunge the country into higher taxes and deeper debts just to satisfy selfish political objectives. The end result of this is the killing of the national economy and retarding human development.

Therefore, NAMs must closely and severely scrutinise every budget line because this draft budget is not realistic. This 2021 estimates are not intended to develop the human capital and economy of the Gambia rather it is designed to serve political interests, undermine the development of the private sector, especially Gambian businesses because of high taxes and then plunge the country into even deeper debt. This means once again, this is a budget designed to entrench poverty, deprivation and corruption.

Let our NAMs realise that in the final analysis they bear primary responsibility for the success and failure of the Gambia. Not the President nor the people. It is the NAMs who have all the powers and tools to correct this country including checking and disciplining the President and his Government. Hence after all the high-sounding slogans and eloquent speeches by NAMs on the floor of the National Assembly, if they did not bring about durable prosperity, dignity and security to each and every Gambian and end public sector corruption and inefficiency, abuse of office and disregard of the rule of law then their time was a waste of resources – a gross failure and shame! Let NAMs bear that in mind!

For the Gambia Our Homeland