Consideration of budget estimate stalls amidst ‘clarity’ concerns

Minister Abdou Colley

The proposed consideration of the 2016 budget estimate by lawmakers was atypically stalled following the decision by the Speaker to give the finance minister and majority leader “adequate” time to respond to queries raised by the minority leader.

Samba Jallow has raised hosts of issues on which he requested clarity such as the salary of the President and the Vice President, money accrued from mining in the country and Government’s relationship with Spectrum Company that has “once held a share in Gamtel”, among others.

 “…We want sufficient reply to be provided by the honorable minister and the majority leader, the head of Government business in the National Assembly,” Abdoulie Bojang said as he outlined the reasons for adjourning the session to today, December 9.

Samba Jallow said he cannot approve an “abstract budget” referring to the salaries of the Vice President and the President while also requesting explanation on the monies that the state “accrues from mining in the country”.

“There is a lot of sand mining in this country and I have looked through our revenue income but I have not seen anything from mining. I would need an explanation on that,” he said.

“There is no mentioning of the salary of the President and the Vice President under the manpower budget under the Office of the President and we cannot approve an abstract budget… I need to know their salaries.”

The minority leader also criticized the move by the government to “increase the salary of the ministers” while leaving the salaries of the low-paying civil servants stagnant, calling it “unfair”.

“There is an increment of salaries for only ministers but why didn’t it include low-paying civil servants. If ministers’ salary can be increased, how about the salaries of government workers whose wage cannot even earn them a bag of rice? To me this allocation is not fair and we must look into it,” he argued.

Samba Jallow also berated the Government for putting in the estimate an amount of “about 65 million dalasi” to be “spent on celebrations” saying such an amount is too much for a government that is thinking of cutting expenditures.

He said The Gambia is in a debt crisis which, he argued, was caused by over-spending by the Government.

“The economic problem that this country is facing is because our government is spending beyond the realm of what is approved for them at the National Assembly,” he said.

“The country’s internal and external debt is at an alarming rate. The Domestic debt alone is 20 billion. The Gambia is in a debt crisis and it is our own making. We have to cut our clothes according to size.”

The Minority Leader also accused the Government of falling out with the European Union because of its human rights records, adding that the country “needs budget support from EU”.

“Why is The Gambia not having budget support…?… I remember the EU stopped giving the country budget support because of its human rights record and we have to improve on that because we need that money. We really need to change our system of governance,” he stated.

Fabakary Tombong Jatta, the majority leader of the National Assembly, who seconded the motion, also tasked various government institutions to ensure that they keep their expenditure within what is approved by the National Assembly.

“We do know that the monies we are talking about were spent on our development needs but in our case where we are only dependent on taxation, it is prudent that we regulate our expenditure… This is a challenge for all of us. In the course of the year, all institutions must be willing to abide by the instructions of the ministry of finance… We should all be ready to face any difficulties with a view to ensuring that end 2016 we can confidently say we have reduce domestic borrowing,” the majority leader argued.

“Inflation is on the rise against our year-end target of reducing it to 5%. Therefore, as a Government we must continue to consolidate the macro-economic gains and continue to pursue fiscal, financial and structural reforms to stir our economy to a more sustainable path. ..We must be prepared to manage our pressures to bring down our domestic borrowing. The two major concerns are the domestic debt component and the wage bill. The Government wage bill now amounts to over 2 billion dalasi. And if you look at the domestic debt and the wage bill together with other loan components, it may cost us over 80% of our revenue.”

The country’s 2016 budget estimate was tabled by the finance minister, Abdou Colley, before lawmakers last week.

Other speakers during the debate included Cherno Jallow and Sainey Mbaye.

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