By Tabora Bojang
Members of the National Assembly reallocated a total of D485,050,993 from the 2024 budget to ‘avoid unproductive spending’ and ensure ‘priority areas’ are considered.
This was contained in the report of the Public and Finance Accounts Committee presented before the plenary yesterday. The report highlighted findings and recommendations of the various Assembly committees on the 2024 revenue and expenditure of the government.
The NAMs said they are concerned about reducing the budget deficit of D4.45 billion, (about 2.55 percent of the GDP) and as such, savings made from the total estimates should be reallocated to sectors.
The committees recommended these sums be saved from the following institutions; Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs D83,554,000, Centralised Services D220,000,000, National Assembly D15, 800,000, the Judiciary D74,300,000, National Audit Office D36,583,000, IEC D48,582,500, Office of the Ombudsman D1,470,000, Ministry of Foreign Affairs D4,092,000 and Ministry of Trade D669,493, totaling D485,050,993.
However, the NAMs did not notably recommend deductions or savings from the budget of the following; the Office of the President, Ministry of Gender and Women, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Basic Education, Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Lands and Regional Government, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Public Service and the National Human Rights Commission.
Debating these recommendations, the deputy majority leader and member for Old Yundum Abdoulie Ceesay, said: “A lot has been done given the fact that we were trying to cut the budget deficit from D4.4 billion. We want to commend FPAC for the amount that was deducted from the budget [D485,050,993]. It is not much but at least it has reduced our overall budget deficit.”
Ceesay charged that the D122 million budget estimates for the Ministry of Youths and Sports is far below expectations. “We are expecting at least D200 million. I don’t see any other Ministry more important than Youth and Sports at a time when Gambia is going to Afcon in 2024.”
Member for Wuli East, Suwaibu Touray charged that Gambia has been doing the same budget process since 1985 and has led us to nowhere but into more debts and interest payments. “The interest payment in the 2024 budget is D7.5 billion. That is more than the budget for Health and Education. If the objective is to make these ministries efficient but debt interest payment alone surpasses all these sectors, then we should know that we are falling into more problems. And it is the responsibility of the minister to ensure we reduce that.”
Member for Upper Nuimi, Omar Darboe, frowned at the low allocation of certain budget lines under the Ministry of Agriculture. “Agriculture is seriously under budgeted under GLF and if we are serious as a country to achieve food self-sufficiency, money must be given to agriculture. The Department of Agriculture which has under it the Extension unit, the Planning Unit, the Agric Engineering unit, the Pest and Disease Control Unit and all the regional directors are under this particular department but they are given an allocation of D500,000. These are people who should move the agriculture sector forward and they are not given any money, any program from the government to help farmers, only relying on the donors’ support. That cannot move us.”
Kiang West NAM, Lamin Ceesay, stated that the 2024 budget is not people-centred. Ceesay said the fact that the government is planning to spend $13 on the health of every Gambian exposes its misplaced prioritisation of sectors.