The 2019 budget of the Barrow Government indeed leaves one wondering if this government really understands what kind of society it has inherited, what conditions of life majority of Gambians live and what must be done to transform this country for the better. A budget explains what the vision and objective of a government is hence the 2019 budget clearly tells us that the Barrow Government has either no vision or a very bad vision for this country. For example, it is indeed scandalous that millions are allocated to buying of vehicles, furniture, refurbishment, lubricants and tours that have no bearing on citizens’ lives but only go to satisfy the comfort of few public officials.
A budget is not just a projection of income and expenditure. But much more than that a budget is the second highest law of a country after the constitution. Our Constitution as well as other laws of the country has set out our rights and needs as citizens for which the Government has an obligation to protect and fulfil those rights and needs. To protect and fulfil rights and needs means the provision of goods and services and building of facilities as well as the creation of opportunities in terms of an enabling legal, policy and institutional environment, the building of infrastructure in any form and the provision of credit, incentives and the enforcement of laws among others. It is the budget that enables the government to protect those rights and deliver those needs.
In other words, the budget is what tells us what is priority or not a priority for a government or which citizen or community will befit or not from public goods and services. This means the budget tells us what and how the government intends to use public resources in order to protect rights and fulfil needs hence national development. Thus, the budget is a life and death issue. Whether a Gambian will die from a preventable disease or not depends on the budget available to the health sector to ensure quality care. Whether a Gambian child will obtain quality education from primary to tertiary levels depends on the budget available to the education sector. Whether a Gambian will be safe and secure or not in her home depends on the budget available to law enforcement and justice delivery structures.
Considering the foregoing one now wonders why the Barrow Government presented the estimates that they did for 2019 for which the National Assembly went ahead to approve. For example, what is the justification for giving over 600 million dalasi to the Office of the President? Yes, this is the highest office in the land, but it does not mean it requires that huge amount of money when it does not build facilities or provide goods or services. The details of the OP budget is clearly meant to fund an overstaffed State House as well as fund exorbitant spending on travels, office operations, ceremonies, patronage among other irrelevant expenditures. The budget for that office needs to be scaled down!
I expected that Pres. Barrow would have realised that his tenure should focus on the transformation of the country, socio-culturally, economically and politically. We do not only need legal and institutional reforms with a new constitution but that we also require the bulk of our budget to go into areas where Gambian lives will be impacted tangibly. For example, despite having a Cabinet and a National Assembly as well as other state institutions to provide guidance and advice, why should Barrow appoint another 6 new official advisors costing us more than 2 million dalasi? It is clear that this budget is only meant to compensate political allies to serve the political objective of Barrow. This is because so far the advisers we see are not only unfit for purpose but they are also all cronies hence it is a waste of public money to allocate more than 2 million dalasi to a bunch of 6 people.
Similarly, when Barrow’s Finance Minister talked about 50% salary increment, one would have expected that in the first place this will not affect the top earners like the president himself. In 2018 Barrow’s salary was 170 thousand dalasi per month but this has now been raised to over 255 thousand dalasi. This makes the 50% salary increment therefore disingenuous and self-serving as it has benefitted the president more than any other worker within the state!
Secondly why would 10 million dalasi be allocated for one country tour of the president within a space covering only 11 thousand square kilometres with 7 administrative areas? This huge amount is utterly unjustified. The parliament should have reduced this amount to les than half a million. Rather what needs to happen is for the president to reduce his entourage to only a small technical team many of who do not even have to spend the entire time in the tour. Technocrats could be coming from their offices to go to Basse or anywhere in the country to give technical assistance to the president in a meeting with a community and then they head back to Banjul to go to work on the same day. Thus, the entourage should be small. But if we turn the country tour into a political jamboree certainly the amount of money needed will be colossal.
Then we have the D384, 416 for the president’s wife as an institution. There is no need for a permanent office for a so-called First Lady. We elected and pay the president and not his wife or daughter or uncle. Hence let the president travel with his wife if he has to. Let the president’s wife lend her voice to social and economic justice causes where necessary or invited to do so. She does not need to operate a permanent office for that matter. Doing so would lead to turning it into a political tool and an avenue for corruption and patronage. Secondly do we factor the scenario where the president is a woman; in that case would her husband maintain the Office of the First Lady or should we say, ‘Office of the First Husband’! Ridiculous!
The most shameful part of the budget is where the most critical institutions that ensure that the Executive arm is held accountable so that it delivers efficiently and effectively have been severely under-resourced. These are the National Assembly, Judiciary and Ombudsman, all of which combined receive less than half of what the Office of the President receives. Yet these are the key institutions that have oversight and accountability functions to check the Executive and society as a whole to ensure that institutions and public officers perform effectively according to law. With this budget, the National Assembly has therefore over-empowered the president over and beyond the legislature hence severely undermining our democracy and good governance.
Another shameful aspect of the budget is the incredibly huge sum allocated to the Ministry of Defence (D699,057,843)! Really what is the objective here? Is the Gambia going to engage in some arms race soon or is this country funding an ongoing war? At this stage of our history and experience, if Barrow understood the exigencies of the Gambia he should have realized that we need more funding for youths (D97,026,190), works/infrastructure (D81,265,164), agriculture (234,268,940), energy (D48,515,500), fisheries (D36,320,000) and science and technology (D243,339,522) because these are the foundations of our economy and productivity. All these combined equal to D740,735,316 which is almost equal to the defence budget.
Even more scandalous is the fact that Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs could questionably get D790,816,197 when the newly created women, children and social welfare ministry has only 44 million dalasi while very limited funding was provided to transitional justice institutions such as the Constitutional Review Commission, TRRC and National Human Rights commission. Since the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs does not deliver public goods and services one wonders where this money will go to? Is it to fund travels, trainings and meetings when availability of quality materials and capacity within the health and education sectors are appalling?
Meantime the allocation for health (D1.03 billion) and basic education (D1.9 billion) are far below the commitments made by the Gambia to international declarations to ensure education for all and health for all citizens. The mindboggling question is how does this entire budget relate to the NDP and the pledges made in Brussels? There is absolutely no reflection that the budget drafters had contemplated or factored in those pledges. Therefore, if this budget goes as it is one can only expect national debt to increase while giving space for corruption to also become widespread because the budget has too many and too much procurement for areas where kickbacks and inflated prices are common.
The 2019 budget is scandalous and a shame that must be rejected by the citizenry. Therefore, it is utterly urgent that the new Constitution creates a new budgeting process so that citizens can engage on it early on to ensure that we truly have a people’s budget. The budget process must begin at least 3 months before the year ends and that the Government must ensure that citizens access the estimates immediately. The law should require that NAMs engage their constituents for a considerable time to obtain public views on the budget for consideration by the National Assembly. This is necessary so that we do not leave our budget, which is about our life and death, to the whims and caprices of a bunch of appointed public officials who are only interested in catering for their privileges, incentives and benefits at the detriment of citizens.
No to 2019 Budget! For the Gambia Our Homeland.