By Alieu Ceesay
On Monday 14th November 2022, National Assembly members of the Gambia’s Sixth Legislature converged at Ocean Bay Hotel in Cape Point for a three-day training retreat on the 2023 Draft Budget. The retreat took place soon after the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs (MoFEA) tabled the 2023 Draft Budget in Parliament. The three-day retreat organised by Civil Society Organisation, Gambia Participates, aims to improve the understanding of National Assembly Members (NAMs) on the budget, budget policies and other budgetary analysis.
In attendance at the training was Ambassador Cromer of the United State to the Gambia, who highlighted that “one of the fundamental tenants of healthy democracies [is] ensuring a balance of power by holding co-equal branches of government accountable”. She told Parliamentarians at the retreat that “as representatives of the Gambian people, bear that weighty responsibility – holding government accountable”. She reminded NAMs that they carry the voices of the people in their districts to the National Assembly’s chambers “and in many cases voices which have been ignored or silenced for far too long”.
Mr Momodou Sise, the Clerk of the National Assembly noted the importance of the National Assembly’s role in scrutinizing the Budget. Clerk Sise noted that “the role of honourable members on the budget is very crucial, it is fundamental since one of our core mandate is to ensure that the government fulfils its need and aspiration of the people you represent, honourable members must be sufficiently informed in order to effectively scrutinize the budget, giving due consideration on social sectors, such as education, health and agriculture”.
He elaborated on the benefits of the training which he believes is “one of the instruments utilized by National Assembly and development partners to ensure that NAMs acquire the requisite knowledge, skills and expertise to deal with the national budget”.
In total out of the 53 elected Parliamentarians, 33 have been elected for the first time, meaning that most of the Parliamentarians of the fifth legislature have no knowledge of scrutinising the Draft Budget in a Parliamentary role. Coupled with the fact that Gambia’s budgetary process allows Parliamentarians a maximum of 14 days to consider and approve the draft budget, time is of the essence. The 14 days period is provided for in Section 152 (1A) of the 1997 Constitution.
Marr Nyang the founder and Executive Director of Gambia Participates urged NAMs to make this training meaningful in order to take the required steps in approving the 2023 budget which will guide the Government’s Expenditure and Revenue collection from 1st January to 31st December 2023. “Honorable members when reviewing and approving the budget please know that there are 2.3 million people that will be impacted by the decision that you are going to make,” Mr Nyang told lawmakers.
It is anticipated that if Parliamentarians improve the Budget through rigorous Parliamentary Scrutiny, the 2023 Approved Budget will improve the livelihood of more Gambians and residents alike and enhance the Government’s implementation of its National Development Plan. At the end of the retreat, NAMs are expected to be better prepared to interrogate the draft estimate budget for the year 2023 and ensure that the needs and aspirations of citizens are well reflected.