By Edrissa Jallow
Just before the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs (MoFEA) was to table the 2023 Draft Budget, Hon Fatoumatta Njai of Banjul South raised a motion highlighting that the Finance Minister had not submitted an electronic copy of the 2023 Draft Budget as stipulated in the National Assembly’s Standing Order 83 (2).
The Speaker of the House Hon Fabakary Tombong Jatta had to intervene and engage his Clerks and Parliamentarians who recommended that the sitting be postponed to ensure compliance with the National Assembly’s Standing Orders.
It all started after the Speaker announced his communication on Monday 14th November 2022. Independent Parliamentarian, Hon Naji raised her constituency tag to highlight a point of order. The member who sits on Parliaments Finance and Public Accounts Standing Committee made reference to the National Assembly’s Standing Order 83 (2) which states that “the Vice President or the Minister shall make an electronic copy and a written copy of this statement available to Members as early as possible and in any event at least one clear day before the day on which the draft budget statement is to be made.”
Hon Njai noted that Parliamentarians “have received the written copy but we are yet to receive the electronic copy”. In reaction, Speaker Jatta sought clarifications with Hon Njai on what exactly was missing to which she reiterated that “the electronic Copy”. She opined that since the Standing Orders says “shall” then the provision of an electronic copy is mandatory.
In response, Speaker Jatta asked: “but does that prevent us from going ahead? It [electronic copy] should be provided, it’s mandatory for its provision”.
A brief moment of silence ensued as the Speaker made further enquiries with the Clerk. After the enquiry, Speaker Jatta announced that “I’ve just been briefed by the Office of the Clerk that the electronic copies have been given to the National Assembly, it’s in our custody and the IT Department is trying to distribute it to the Hon members but it is in the custody of the National Assembly”.
This followed more resistance from Hon Njai who reiterated that the provision states that electronic copies should be sent to Hon members. The Speaker pushed back highlighting that “I am informed that Finance has already given us the electronic copies, it’s in our custody and the IT division is working to distribute it. What I’m saying is it’s no more Finance but within the Assembly itself”.
Hon Sulayman Saho of Central Baddibu who has been involved in a number of disagreements with the Speaker, most notably during the 2022 State of the Nation Address was given the floor to make an observation. Hon Saho took the opportunity to recommend “adjourn[ing] the session until the copy is available”. He argued that the Standing Orders must be complied with because it’s the “operational tool in the National Assembly”.
At this point, some more deliberations took place between the Speaker, Hon Sulayman Saho and Hon Njai on the decision to call off the sitting or to proceed.
Hon Njai continued to highlight the rest of Standing Order 83(2) which notes that “where this is not been possible, he or she shall state to the Assembly the reason(s)”. At this point, she appeared to agree that the sitting can continue when she argued “ok he has given us reasons so I think then we can proceed”. However, she noted the importance of her Standing Order which is that a reason has now been provided which would not have materialised without her intervention.
To assess how much Budget Data is currently available on the MoFEA website a review was conducted which highlights that the 2023 Draft Budget and the January to September 2022 Expenditure Report can be downloaded in the link below. The only thing missing is a regular update on Revenues collected to date, although the Finance Minister’s speech gives figures on this. This is important to assess if the government is spending above its revenue or if it’s spending within its revenue limits.
It would be even more beneficial for the MoFEA to provide data on actual Expenditure and Net Lending in separate columns as opposed to Expenditure alone. Similarly, given the fact that the Gambia is dependent on Loans and Grants, it would also be beneficial for the MoFEA to provide data on actual Revenues and Grants collected on a monthly basis.
2023 Draft Budget – https://mofea.gm/downloads-file/the-executive-budget-proposal-2023
January to September 2022 Expenditure Report – https://mofea.gm/downloads-file/september-2022-expenditure-report