On Tuesday December 11 Finance Minister Mamburay Njie placed before the National Assembly a request for additional 1.128 billion dalasi to be given to Government based on reasons that are far less than convincing. In the first place in the ‘Supplementary Appropriation Bill’ it is stated that this colossal sum of money is to cover the period from January to December 2018. Yet it is only 19 days to the end of the year. Why?
In presenting his request, the minister first justified the request on the basis of the food crisis, the teachers and nurses strike for better pay, shortage of medicine in public hospitals and rising fuel prices. He said these factors caused unplanned expenditure. However, the minister did not specify in figures how much was spent exactly on each of these factors. I hope NAMs will ask for those figures before taking any step.
Secondly the minster went further to highlight five basic reasons why the Government incurred huge expenditures that, according to him were either not budgeted or under-budgeted. These are:
1. Huge personnel emoluments as a result of increased basic car and transport allowances amounting to over 203 million dalasi
2. Establishment of new agencies such as the Janneh and Faraba commissions, TRRC, CRC, SSHFC investigative panel amounting to over 236 million dalasi
3. Contributions and payment of arrears to international organizations in the wake of Gambia’s re-joining global processes and organizations amounting to over 226 million dalasi
4. Maintenance of foreign missions as a result of opening of many new missions and deployment of many more staffs amounting to over 65 million
5. Transfers and subsidies for electricity, water, farm inputs and agricultural commodities and support to operations of state enterprises particularly GCC and NAWEC amounting to over 402 million dalasi.
Because of these ‘unexpected’ factors the minister said they had to therefore take money from other budget lines to fund these activities and in anticipation of budget support from the EU.
I do not buy this argument by Minister Mamburay at all! If this Government has a shortfall today it is the fault of this Government itself due to their wasteful spending and therefore our money should not used to clean up their mess! The facts of this request point to only one fact which is that this Government is inefficient, corrupt and lacking transparency. In his entire speech, Mamburay Njie did not mention how much money has also been wasted by this Government to account for the shortfall he is decrying.
Was it not in September 2018 that Mamburay himself went before parliament to state that over 300 million dalasi was spent on travels in the first 7 months of this year? Following that, was it not the same Minister who also issued a circular to impose a foreign travel ban except for statutory meetings? Well before these measures, was it not this same Government that expressed concern at the wasteful use of government vehicles and vowed to control it?
They took those decisions simply because they had noticed on their own a clear system of wastage in their own backyard, yet they have failed to curtail them. What ended up happening was that officials continue to travel as they wish while Government vehicles can be seen flying in and around our villages and towns even at 12 midnight when official business has stopped for most offices!
Where the president himself would carry over 50 people for a UN General Assembly and then hire a chartered flight, what moral authority therefore does this Government have to ask for more money when they have plundered our wealth with impunity.
Above all, Mamburay did not speak to the 750 thousand US dollars which landed in the purse of the First Lady’s foundation, that the Minster of Information Ebrima Sillah said was money that was meant to fund the President’s trip to China in December 2017. Meantime, the Government itself and its surrogates had said at the time that this state visit was at the invitation of and funded by the Chinese Government 100%! Therefore, why would anyone send money for that same trip? Where is the money today? Who put it there? Why has it not been returned? Who is spending it now?
Therefore, let us tell Mamburay Njie not to joke with us. Just 19 days to the end of the year, we cannot give our hard-earned money to a Government that is notorious for waste of public resources. Instead Mamburay should have advised the President since January 2018 to cut down on his advisors and foreign travels. Mamburay should have refused to allow the President to spend millions on the 2018 country tour.
The President himself should have taken serious steps to review the security sector so that he scales down the army. The Gambia Armed Forces as well as the Office of the President are among the top 10 spending entities in the Government. For the Ministry of Defence alone this huge spending is mainly due to the unnecessarily large number of soldiers. Gambia does not need a large army but rather a small, professional and public service-oriented military that will build roads and schools and hospitals than a war-oriented military without a war to fight!
This supplementary budget proposal is unjustified also in that all of the issues the minister raised are not necessarily unexpected disasters or issues beyond our control. Rather these are factors we created consciously. Those commissions, subsidies, transfers, international contributions as well as personnel costs did not drop from the sky. Hence an efficient and professional government should have had the necessary contingencies, plans and forecasts to be able to handle them.
In terms of NAWEC particularly, why should the Government bail it out when there are Government institutions that owe the company millions of dalasi? Rather NAWEC should just disconnect any Government agency that fails to pay its bills. But we cannot allow public institutions fail to pay their bills only for people’s money to be taken away from health, education and other basic social services just to pay off NAWEC. What’s even more insulting is that when ordinary citizens don’t pay their bills NAWEC would disconnect them immediately without remorse!
A serious Government must not entertain a culture of supplementary budgets. This is a notorious misconduct that came from the APRC legacy during which every year the Government would go to the National Assembly to ask for more money. Here are a few instances of supplementary budget under the APRC Regime that the National Assembly approved without question:
• 2010 Supplementary Budget– 100 million dalasi
• 2011 Supplementary Budget– 220 million dalasi
• 2012 Supplementary Budget– 471 million dalasi
• 2013 Supplementary Budget– 300 million dalasi
• 2014 Supplementary Budget– 1.1 billion dalasi (done in November)
We cannot and must not therefore allow the Barrow Government to also adopt this same bad attitude just to plunder our wealth and torment our lives. After all, when these supplementary budgets are approved the sad reality is that at the end of the day citizens do not see any positive changes in their lives. Rather poverty, high cost of living and poor and erratic yet expensive social services continue to characterise the lives of the people as if the country has no government.
Therefore, let us stand up against this Barrow supplementary appropriation bill by storming the National Assembly on Friday December 14 to stop the Minster from even reading the 2019 Scandalous Budget of Shame!
For the Gambia Our Homeland.