Building The New Gambia
Parliamentarians Raise Critical Issues on the Revised Budget
The presentation of the revised budget by Finance Minster Amadou Sanneh is not only long overdue but also utterly urgent and necessary given the gross financial indiscipline and severe mismanagement leading to the dire state of the economy by APRC. The budgets prepared by Yaya Jammeh were never realistic and pragmatic and this was why his budgets were consistently and constantly busted only for former Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy to go back to parliament to seek additional funds. I have not seen the full details of the revised budget but judging by the critical issues raised by NAMs today indicate that while it contains some sober and realistic revisions, yet there are also major issues of concern.
Members indeed have raised some very important issues that show that they need to take more time to study this budget quite well in order to further cut it according to our size. The suggestion put up by Halifa Sallah that the ministry to have prior consultation with the parliament is critical because that would have addressed a lot of the concerns and issues raised. We must realize that the budget is the second most important law after the constitution. Hence the budget is not an ordinary law. In fact it is the budget that enables the government to protect our rights and satisfy our needs. Hence the budget is the lifeblood of our constitution and sovereignty. Without the budget schools, roads, the police and hospitals among others will not function.
For that matter, the preparation of the budget must be taken up in the most serious manner possible. Therefore Halifa’s suggestion is in place that since the parliament is the body that approves the budget, the Finance Minister would ease his job and also empower the parliament to do their job more efficiently if he first creates a consultative engagement with NAMs until they are able to agree on the issues, costs and items of the budget. This revised budget is to fund the current and development expenditure of the government for 2017 hence expenditure must be kept at its bare minimum. Areas that are not social sectors but only maintaining offices and personnel must be cut down.
Another important issue Halifa raised is about public enterprises. Public enterprises help to decentralize and decongest the provision of public goods and services to make them more accessible and affordable to the masses. Secondly public enterprises are also created to serve as income generation for the government hence they are business enterprises. APRC Government severely mismanaged the public enterprises as Yaya Jammeh turned them into his personal golden goose. Consequently the dividends these enterprises were supposed to provide to the government were not coming. It is such interference that is responsible for the huge debts confronting these enterprises. Therefore the parliament must pursue this matter to bring to book managing directors and board chairpersons to answer to such mismanagement and economic loss. Furthermore, permanent secretaries of line ministries of each and every public enterprise must be called to answer as to why these enterprises failed to pay their dividends. The matter must not be left forgotten.
But we must tell all the members who spoke to realize that their job is not just to highlight, expose, disagree or suggest, but the parliament must realize that they are the driver of this process. Hence they must follow up, demand and summon persons and institutions of interest to come to the parliament to testify. For example, it is not enough for one to express issues about mining in the country, or raise concern about vehicle use, fuel consumption and foreign travels. We want to see the parliament take a definitive stand to give an order to the Minister of Finance on those issues.
Halifa also raised the issue of salaries and pensions and the need to create commissions to determine the state of affairs in these areas. Yes, that is a good recommendation that the government must do. But whether the government does that or not, the parliament on its own must also launch its own inquiry to enlighten themselves on the matter so that they can take clear position and advice the government accordingly.
It is indeed commendable the Minister of Finance produced a revised budget, but let him also understand that this budget must be backed by serious system and attitudinal changes. For example the issue of foreign travels must be controlled particularly at the highest level. The president and ministers must by now limit their travels and stop flying on business class. Members did well to highlight the huge costs spent on embassies, ministers and their vehicles, national celebrations and other operational costs. While it is commendable that cuts have been made to the Office of the President as well as plans to dispose off the planes of the dictator, yet it is still necessary to further cut down cost.
Going forward, the parliament must also set a ceiling for loans. In the past there was no limit as to how much the country can borrow, locally and externally. The current debacle we face is because there were no standards and checkpoints and those that exist were disregarded. Hence the parliament must ensure that we set targets and abide by checks and balances in order not to harm ourselves. We have to have a ceiling for loans particularly the issuance of treasury bills by the Central Bank. The uncontrolled and unlimited use of T-Bills in the past was just mind boggling. This must stop through the creation of necessary legislation.
Finally, it is important that the Minister of Finance and the National Assembly look into the Finance and Audit Act again because there are a number of regulations that have been either ignored or abused. For example there are regulations for the creation of funds for ox-plough, community development, relief to fight hunger, housing loans, transport loans, leprosy fund, medical supplies among others. These are specified amounts of money earmarked to address specific issues. Yet these regulations have not been usually utilized which would have helped to ease some of the hardships in our communities, institutions and in the life of individuals.
The government’s contribution to local councils must also be addressed. The Local Government Act requires that the Government provide 25% of the development budget of local governments yet for years this has not been honoured. The local councils and municipalities were also denied many revenue sources that they usually controlled. Hence if they continued to be denied those sources of revenue and the government contribution to their development budget is not also fulfilled then how do we expect the local governments and municipalities to provide the services and functions they are mandated to provide under the Local Government Act?
God Bless The Gambia