By Madi Jobarteh
A miracle is taking place in the National Assembly these days as parliamentarians critically discuss the estimates for the national budget. For the first time we are seeing a large number of Gambian parliamentarians raising pertinent issues about the budget in terms of the budget lines and the allocations as well as the results that the budget could produce for the development and the future of The Gambia. It is therefore necessary that Gambians storm the parliament to listen to these deliberations and provide the necessary moral support to those NAMs.
Gambians must bear in mind that national development cannot take place until the budget is rightly and strategically formulated in order to provide the necessary resources to the right places at the right time. In order words, we need a budget that enables the government to raise the necessary resources without harming the people, yet also implement that budget such that every butut reaches in full to sectors and communities to which allocation is made.
When the budget is not well formulated and its implementation is not proper, not only will the country face deficits but the economy itself will not function well while goods and services that should reach the population will not arrive hence poverty, inequality and deprivation will continue to characterize the lives of Gambians.
For 52 years The Gambia has never balanced its budget rather the country has always experienced perennial deficits while at the same time taxes continue to always go higher as delivery of social services remain limited and not available to the majority of citizens. The fact remains that this country persistently witnesses waste of public resources and financial mismanagement simply because of the lack of effective oversight by the parliament.
The budget is the tool that the government utilises to implement our Constitution. It is in our Constitution that the rights and needs of the citizens are spelt out hence the Constitution is the basis of national development. When a budget is poorly formulated, mismanaged and not implemented in full, it means necessary equipment, facilities, tools and services will not be available at hospitals, schools, police and fire stations and communities while public infrastructure will be poor.
When hospitals lack the necessary medical equipment, electricity and water supply it means mothers can die while giving birth to another Gambian. When necessary drugs and examination tools are lacking in health facilities it means Gambian children can die from preventable diseases. When necessary teaching and learning materials are lacking in public schools, it means quality education is compromised thus undermining the future of those children and the country. When roads are not available or poorly constructed because the full budget allocation is not delivered it means transportation becomes more difficult and expensive which also translates into high cost of living. Hence the budget is a life and death issue.
The parliamentarians therefore must realise that what they are doing is in fact saving the lives of their electorates. By scrutinising the estimates to ensure that the right allocations are made to the right sectors and places, it means this country will now have the means to generate its own development more effectively. Hence the parliamentarians must not ignore any budget line and allocation. They must ask the right questions and obtain satisfactory answers otherwise they must return the budget back to the Minister of Finance to review his estimates.
When the parliament finally approves the budget they must still continue the scrutiny because budget execution is as important as budget formulation. Execution of the budget means funds are now given to the government to implement which means to spend public money that will go to provide the necessary goods, facilities and services that the country needs. It is usually in the execution of the budget that lot of corruption occurs thus causing poor service delivery.
This is when the funds allocated to sectors, facilities and services are either cut or diverted by the ministries, departments and agencies. They divert these funds to personal and office matters while health facilities, police stations or schools in our communities are lacking basic materials. Secondly in the procurement of goods and services, public officers would inflate prices or buy poor quality materials just to get kickbacks such that while they spend a lot of the money yet citizens only receive poor services, poor facilities or poor infrastructure such as roads or buildings.
All citizens must take the budget very seriously because after the Constitution, the budget is the most important law. It is the budget that will determine whether our hospitals will be a place to save or kill lives. It is the budget that will determine if Gambians will enjoy water and electricity supply 24 hours or not. It is our budget that will determine the prices of goods. It is our budget that will determine if our rights will be protected or violated. It is the budget that determines if jobs will be available or not. Hence the budget is our present and future. It is a life and death issue that no citizen must ignore.
It is sad that these estimates were not shared with the general public in the first place. The Ministry of Finance must make these estimates public the moment they share with NAMs. If they fail to do so our NAMs should have shared them with their constituents. But it is sad that none of them did so even though these estimates are about the resources and lives of the people. In the New Gambia, we must demand that budget estimates be shared with the general public so that the public influences the budget in our own interest. Secondly citizens have a right to see and know the estimates!
Let us go to the parliament to show our NAMs that we care about our budget because our budget is our life. Let us go to the parliament to support those NAMs that have taken a determined and principled stance to ensure that the wealth of the Gambia is invested and distributed among Gambians. Let us go to the parliament to embolden those progressive NAMs who are playing their oversight role effectively without fear or favour. For The Gambia, our homeland!
Madi Jobarteh is the deputy executive director of The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations.