Friday, September 18, 2020

Resources and partnerships in addressing COVID-19

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Schools have been closed, public gatherings are being discouraged, persons disclosing certain symptoms are being sent to observatories. All flights are now suspended for 21 days. Bilateral decision of Senegal and Gambia has led to 21 days border closure. The minister of health claims that the government is well prepared to address the pandemic if the resources are available. The Select committee on health of the National Assembly has been monitoring developments and is carrying out oversight on the approaches on the resources and approaches being put in place to address the pandemic. The announcement that the president has approved D500 million to enable the health authorities to fight the pandemic has brought about mixed feelings that need clarification. There is the positive reaction to the allocation of resources to combat the pandemic but there is disquiet in not knowing how the president could approve monies without coming to the National Assembly. It is therefore important for Foroyaa to clarify the provisions behind public finance.

First and foremost, section 152 of the Constitution empowers the president to cause the minister responsible for finance to prepare and lay the estimates of each following financial year for approval of the National Assembly. This is followed by the introduction of the Appropriation Bill and its eventual passing by the National Assembly.

Should there be any need for any more resources after the enactment of the Approbation Act for any year a supplementary estimate and its corresponding Supplementary Appropriation Bill must be brought to the national assembly to be processed into law. A contingency fund under section 154 of the Constitution could either be part of an Appropriation Act or a Supplementary Appropriation Act.

The only other way that the president could touch the public purse is under section 151 (4) where the president may authorise withdrawal of money from the consolidated fund for a period not exceeding four months should there be failure by the national assembly to approve a budget before the beginning of a financial year.

Where then did the 500 million come from? It could only come from what is already allocated to the health budget. Under section 29 of the Public Finance Act the minister is to issue warrants for the spending of what is appropriated to each budget agency based on what is approved. Currently there is provision for virement among expenditure items of a budget agency of up to 75 percent of what is allocated to the agency.

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There is no magic behind the D500 million to fight COVID-19. The National assembly has oversight over budget execution and when the time comes the national assembly will be able to trace where the 500 million came from. It is certainly not coming from the pockets of the executive. It is coming from the public purse, the consolidated fund.

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