By Madi Jorbarteh
‘Our National Budget is Our Sovereignty that must be Guarded, Jealously!’
In 1920, EF Small, our Father of Independence shouted ‘No taxation without representation’. By then Gambians do not vote for a government because we had the abominable colonialists sitting on our heads and milking us like cows without mercy or conscience. Our people pay tax, yet some other aliens decide how to use it, anyhow.
Since gaining independence in 1970, we now have representation through our National Assembly who decides on our behalf and in our name how to use our public money. In the 1997 Constitution Section 152 says the Minister of Finance will place before the National Assembly the National Estimates for the following year at least 30 days before the end of the current year. This means on or before 1st December 2014, the Minister of Finance will go to the Assembly to place the 2015 budget in what we call the Budget Speech.
Why a Supplementary Budget?
As the name implies a ‘supplement’ is merely an addition. Thus a ‘supplementary budget’ is an additional budget. But then why would we have an additional budget in the first place if the actual budget was given in the beginning? If one notices, the practice of supplementary budget has become a culture in the Gambia for the past 10 years, consistently. What is even more baffling is that the request for supplementary budget always comes at most 3 months to the end of the year. Why? Is it that the budget that is given at the beginning of the year is inadequate because it was not well planned? Or is it that the managers of the budget do not pay attention to the terms of the budget to ensure compliance, rather they recklessly spend without any caution? So far the argument from the various ministers of finance in justifying a supplementary budget is that there is a case of unforeseen circumstances, opening or construction of new offices, purchase of equipment and materials as well as hosting of celebrations or ceremonies among others. But it is the job of the National Assembly to make sure that the Government plans well so that the money that is given is utilized optimally. In fact the National Assembly should be demanding that the Government conducts itself within the limits of its budget, if at all it cannot make savings every year. This is what is called financial discipline.
Unfortunately for the Gambia, supplementary budget has become the norm as these figures show:
1. Supplementary Budget 2010 – 100 million dalasi
2. Supplementary Budget 2011 – 220 million dalasi
3. Supplementary Budget 2012 – 471 million dalasi
4. Supplementary Budget 2013 – 300 million dalasi
5. Supplementary Budget 2014 – 1.1 billion dalasi
Understanding the 2014 Supplementary Budget
In presenting the 2014 budget before the National Assembly sometime in December 2013, the Minister of Finance Kebba Touray said this,
“Total domestic revenue and grants is estimated at D8.6 billion in 2014 from D7.6 billion in 2013.”
“Total expenditure and net lending is projected at D10.2 billion, up from D8.3 billion in 2013… The fiscal deficit is projected at D1.6 billion … Net Domestic Borrowing is projected to be limited to D933.5 million in 2014, which is 2.5 per cent of GDP. … whilst the repayments of principals on external loans is programmed at D763 million.”
To make sense out of this, it simply means, in 2014 the Government is expected to raise D8.6 billion as revenue. Yet it is expected to spend D10.2 billion in the same year. This means our spending as a nation is more than our income. To put it into simple arithmetic, it follows like this: 10.2 – 8.6 = 1.6. In other words, we have a shortfall of D1.6 billion dalasi.
Holding the National Assembly to Account.
Now what beats imagination is how therefore could the National Assembly, in its right mind, decide to give D1.1 billion to the same Government only lest than 60 days before the end of the year? It begs the question as to whether the National Assembly actually understands the meaning, value and function of a budget, or they just don’t care? In a few days time, i.e. on or before December 1, the Minister of Finance will once again come to the National Assembly to lay before them the 2015 budget for approval.
Already in the 2014 budget speech, the Finance minister noted that we have a deficit of D1.6B. This is different from the fact that in that same year the Government will borrow from local sources D933.5M, making it the biggest borrower in the country. Also, the Government will be serving our loans at a tune of D763M.
Local borrowing is one of the major reasons why interest or lending rates are high, as well as causing shortages in the money market thereby making it difficult for Gambian entrepreneurs to obtain loans from banks in order to invest. Furthermore, with a huge amount of our budget going to service loans, the question once again comes up as to whether the National Assembly understands a budget and interested in ensuring financial discipline and control in the country? We need the National Assembly to demonstrate leadership by demanding that the Government ensures judicious use of resources by tightening the knots and bolts around our public money, such as making sure Government refrains from domestic borrowing, while reducing the amount of loans being taken so as to reduce debt servicing which is heavily eating into our budget at the detriment of the provision of basic social services.
By providing D1.1B to the Government almost at the end of a budget year, what message is the Assembly sending to us? Has it done an assessment of the expenditure pattern and actions of Government to determine how well the D10.2B given in January 2014 is being put into good use in order to bring about better living standards in the lives of the people? We went into 2014 with a huge deficit coupled with huge domestic borrowing and loan servicing, how well are we going to fare in the future when we now add additional D1.1B to an already highly indebted and impoverished hapless nation like the Gambia? Can the National Assembly tell us convincingly that indeed the Gambia can overcome deficits with this kind of action?
National Budget is Next Only to the Constitution in Importance
It is therefore necessary to educate our lawmakers that the National Budget is the Second Most Important Law of any country after the Constitution. Our Constitution is important, first and foremost because it defines us as citizens and then set out our Rights as Human Beings to be respected, protected and fulfilled by the Government. It is through the fulfilment of our human rights that we obtain what we call ‘Development’ such as good roads, health care, education, water, electricity, security, free speech and media, clean environment among others. But the Constitution cannot achieve these needs of the people on its own. It is the National Budget which provides the resources necessary so that the Government is able to provide the needs of the people hence the fulfilment of their human rights as spelt out in our constitution.
Thus anytime you hear of the National Budget, know that it is about the resources that make the enjoyment of your right possible. It is budgets that provide for the construction of courts, and the hire of clerks, lawyers, judges and provision of materials such as vehicles, pens and paper. In the same way, it is the budget that provides for the construction of schools, training of teachers, purchase of school materials and payment of salaries so that education as a human right is fulfilled to serve the human need. It is the same with health as a human right. Without the budget, the Government cannot meet the health needs of the people so that we can claim that the right to health is achieved. So a budget is therefore a life and death issue. A National Budget is like a household ‘depans’ without which there will be no lunch or dinner at home. Without the ‘depans’ a parent cannot pay school fees; he or she cannot buy cahspower or even sit around to have attaya with the family. In a nutshell the budget is the resources which make our rights enjoyable and our needs met, hence development.
I therefore demand the National Assembly to bring back our money asap!
Furthermore, I command our representatives to initiate a law to ensure that a supplementary budget must not be placed before the Assembly beyond June. In this law, it must stipulate that no supplementary budget will be provided more than 2 times in every five years. In this way, the National Assembly will therefore discipline the Government to cut its coat according to its size. This is what will promote and ensure fiscal transparency and prudence and enable the country meet its development needs better. Thirdly, the law must place a ceiling as to how much would be allocated as supplementary budget.
Look, We need Effective Representation!
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