By: Kebba AF Touray
The Gambia’s National Assembly has finally approved a total budget of Twenty-nine billion, Ninety-nine million, Four hundred and sixty thousand, six hundred and sixty dalasi (D29, 099,460,660.00) for the Gambia for the fiscal year 2021.
This was on Saturday 28th November 2020, after what turned out to be a marathon scrutiny, consideration and adoption of the said budget, as the Lawmakers spent over 28 hours in their deliberation over this matter.
Speaking to journalists shortly after the marathon exercise, Hon. Alhagie Mbowe, Member Upper Saloum and the Vice Chairperson of the Finance and Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament said: “We have seen the priority areas of the government (Health, Education, Agriculture and Infrastructure Development). The difference between the previous budget and the 2021 budget is that the government is now trying to do things on their own, [that is] instead of depending on foreign loans and grants, the government is trying to use the revenue it generates within the country”.
He said: if you look at the budget lines of agriculture, health and infrastructure, you would realise that the bulk of the money is going to come from the coffers of the government. If you look at the budget line for agriculture, the money has actually started to go up and that is really what we want to see”.
He told journalists that the country cannot hinge its development on donors, as they are not fully guaranteed and would have conditions on them, but that the country’s own money can be spent on development projects and initiatives without any conditions attached to them.
He said: “that is a step in the right direction and we need to look within the country to be able to generate revenue to be able to work on the various development sectors of the country. As a committee our objective has been to reduce deficit by D1 billion, but we were unable to do that”.
He said the reason why they could reduce the deficit of six billion dalasis by one billion dalasis was, among others, due to computation errors by the various Ministries and programmes which they were told after consultation are necessary.
He said: “We could not hit our set target by 100 percent, but actually we are able to reduce the deficit by D140 Million; but the initial target really was D1 billion due to some the reason that I have highlighted”.
On what would be the impact of not achieving their reduction target (D1 billion), he said when an economy or budget has a deficit, ways have to be developed to finance those deficits, which entails generating funds from either within the country through domestic borrowing (which impacts on businesses and must be paid) or taking loans and grants from outside the country, which (loans and grants) are not guaranteed and may take a longer time to get them, which would have an impact on the economy.
He said: “the priority areas of the lawmakers might differ, with some focusing on electricity, water, road and health but overall the best interest of the country must be the topmost priority of the lawmakers”.
On the loan scheme for the Lawmakers, he said the reason why he voted for the assembly to rescind its position on the loans is that their committee Finance and Public Accounts Committee (FPAC) advised the entities such as the National Audit Office, to reduce their budget, as it was very high and that the part of its budget line it has cut is on loans and that the timing for taking the loan is not right, knowing full well that their term as lawmakers ends in about 12 to 15 months.
He said: “So for me it was an ethical issue because we ask these people to cut their budget which they did and take the same loans and give it back to ourselves. So for me that was an ethical issue and we must look at the economic situation of the country, but we must be considerate, look at the morality and the ethical issues and that was why I voted against the loan scheme”.
He said: “We must think twice and we must take into consideration that the national interest becomes our topmost priority and not to give ourselves things because we have the powers to do this …..”