By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
On Friday 14th December 2018, Africa’s smallest mainland country, The Gambia laid out its budget for 2019 at the National Assembly. For a country of around two million people, over D25 Billion Dalasis is earmarked to be spent in 2019 if a Supplementary Appropriation Bill (SAB) is not tabled before the end of 2019. In layman’s terms, the Government intends to spend over D2 Billion Dalasis every month in 2019.
Some will say, so all our problems will be resolved very soon, including and not limited to; stable electricity and water, access to first class health-care facilities, better sanitary infrastructure, better transportation and much more. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but after completing a two-day training on The Gambia’s budget, I must confess that the Gambia’s budget cycle is faulty by design.
This article takes a critical look at the efficiency and transparency of The Gambia’s budget cycle and compares it to Rwanda’s budget cycle. The transition Government is expected to implement some much-needed reforms, the Constitution is undergoing a complete makeover via the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) but how about the National Budget?
2. The Gambia’s Budget Cycle and Procedures
At a two day training organised by International Republican Institute, The Gambia’s budget was explained by Finance expert and consultant, CEO of Fyen Consulting, Mrs. Lucy Fye. Mrs. Fye worked in The Gambia’s Finance Ministry for 15 years before working in the World Bank, 20 African countries and in other continents. She explained that the Gambia’s financial year runs from January to December, however, the budget cycle runs from June to December which is only half the financial year.
She says “I am not aware of a law that requires the different departments and ministries to consult the citizens.” When questioned further she stated that “the onus of consultation is left to the ministries and departments.”
The Gambia’s Budget Cycle explained by Lucy Fye
3. Rwanda’s Budget Cycle and Procedures
Rwanda employs a three-step budget cycle which is outlined in figure two below. Their fiscal year runs from July to June identical to the budget cycle period. According to Mrs Fye “normally in July to December the first six months of the year, they’re already preparing a new budget for the coming year. You have received money for this year now you start preparing for the next year. We are now preparing for 2019, so you are reviewing the performance of 2017 while executing 2018.”
She goes further to give an example of 2018. “While executing the 2018 [budget] you are reviewing the performance of [the] 2017 [budget]. What were the impacts, what were the issues? How was the budget flow? How did it reach the projects it was supposed to reach? What were the results? So you start from 2017, you go to 2018 which is [the] current year. This year we’re addressing a, b and c but next year we want to address c, d and e. So December is prioritising, so you start to prioritise which are the key things you want to implement and draw a line.”
As soon as the Call Circular is announced in January signaling more stakeholder consultation via the ministries, all ministries would have already reviewed the previous year’s  performance and preparation for the next year [2019, while completing the execution of 2018]. “So they [all ministries] get their budget call for estimates in January.” In July to December during budget performance ministries actually, go to the citizens to find out how the performance of 2017 Government projects.”
Rwanda’s Budget Cycle explained by Lucy Fye
4. Comparative Analysis
The first thing Gambians need to understand when it comes to the budget is that every single budget has a beneficiary and The Gambian budget’s beneficiaries are her citizens who fund a large portion of the budget via their taxes. Imagine The Gambia as a compound where residents are expected to pay rent which is collected and used to fund it’s yearly activities. This is locally referred to as “osusu” [I believe this word is a colloquial pronunciation of the word association]. Nobody will remain with the osusu if they cannot see how the osusu benefits them directly.
In Rwanda, for example, the budget cycle with a review of the previous year which consults citizens and includes their concerns, a Call Circular and a Calendar is issued which informs citizens when they can be engaged. Another important point to note is that a key component of engaging citizens is for citizens to be furnished with timely and appropriate information to make an informed decision at the right time. However, in the Gambia there is no law compelling citizen engagement and the budget is mostly driven by the Cabinet and the Ministry of Finance. This is a top-down approach as compared to Rwanda’s bottom-up approach.
Coming back to the household analogy, how will anybody cater to the needs of the Gambian household if residents are not consulted to address their specific needs? Although every household has some basic needs such as; water, electricity, food, education and access to health care the specific needs of the household will never be addressed if the residents are not consulted. Furthermore, how much of these basic services they need will not be addressed if the beneficiaries are not consulted.
5. Conclusion – More Transparency and Consultation
As The Gambia undergoes the much-needed reforms to usher in a new dispensation more emphasis needs to be given on how the national cake is proportioned. Failure to address some of the key issues means the root problems around misappropriation of funds will continue and every year the government will continue to ask for a SAB. Huge sums of money will be spent on white elephant projects which don’t actually address the people’s immediate concerns.
How can a budget address the needs of its citizens if its budget cycle does not capture their needs? How can a citizenry contribute to the National budget if they are not given the required information to make an informed decision? These are serious questions which highlight that the budget cycle needs to be more transparent to encourage more citizen engagement. Lack of transparency and access to timely information always translates to reduced citizen interest and engagement. One way this can be addressed is for the CRC process to include a law compelling the budget cycle to capture the needs and concerns of citizens.
Some other issues surrounding the budget include the length of time the National Assembly has to debate the budget. In the Gambia, they are given two weeks which appears limited when compared to Rwanda which has a full month to debate the budget, on top of their nation-wide stakeholder consultations from the start of the budget cycle. Finally, an important question which the Government needs to champion if it truly believes in its National Development Plan (NDP) is to ensure that the NDP is reflected in the budget?
“If the National Development Plan is the vehicle to drive The Gambia towards destination #NewGambia, then the National Budget is the fuel to drive the vehicle towards this new dispensation.”