By Omar Bah
The Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs has told the National Assembly during his 2023 budget speech that the country’s public debt now stands at D90.7 billion.
According to Minister Seedy Keita, the public debt stock stands at D90.7 billion as at end September 2022 compared to D83.8 billion in the same period in 2021, representing a significant rise of about D6.1 billion in 12 months.
“The increment of the public debt stock is explained by the foreign exchange rate loss on the foreign debt stock and increase in domestic borrowing amounting to D3.2 billion and D3.7 billion respectively,” Minister Keita explained.
He however said the government is still within the domestic borrowing target as approved in the 2022 national Budget. He said of the total debt stock in 2022, domestic debt constitutes D39.7 billion, whilst external debt constitutes D51.0 billion.
The minister also announced a D14.6 billion grant to support the country’s 2023 budget. This, he added, is expected to increase along the projection period.
He said the budget support grants will reach D2.9 billion by 2026, from the D2.7 billion expected in 2023.
Project grants, Minister Keita added, will move from D11.8 billion in 2023 to D14.2 billion by 2026.
“The increment in project grants reflects the potential of new investment projects that will support the rapid growth of the economy in the medium term despite the adverse circumstances in the international markets,” he added.
He said the 2023 budget support has already been discussed with development partners and passed the test for inclusion in the budget.
According to Minister Keita, government’s expenditure in 2023 is projected to increase from D35.4 billion to D42.8 billion, largely attributed to an anticipated increase in capital expenditure due to the ongoing road projects and salary increments.
He said the Ministry of Fisheries has advanced in the preparation of the West Africa Coastal Area (WACA) resilience investment program to the tune of US$46 million. The project, he added, is to address coastal erosion, drainage systems and building resilience of communities in the country.
On transitional justice, Minister Keita said the government is committed to the implementation of the White Paper and as such will establish the necessary structures for the prosecution of individuals adversely mentioned in Jammeh era crimes.
He said the National Enterprise Development Initiative through funding from International
Organisation for Migration (IOM) has trained 614 migrant returnees on business development and career guidance across the country.
According to Minister Keita, there are currently six open blocks, and the goal is to license these blocks in order to achieve the strategic policy objective to discover commercial oil deposits.
“These blocks are being promoted through Oil & Gas conferences, exhibitions, and workshops, or through direct engagements with International Oil Companies (IOCs),” he added.
To ease movement for business and leisure between The Gambia and Senegal, Minister Keita said the Gambia International Airlines (GIA) is intensifying negotiations with credible airline partners to secure an aircraft that will operate daily flights between the two countries.
He said the domestication will significantly reduce airfares and bring more reliability in flights between Banjul and Dakar.
He said the Ministry of Trade, through GIEPA, has been able to attract $36.9 million through the Special Investment Certificate and with the potential to create a total of 1,185 jobs.
The Minister of Finance has also announced new immigration fees for non-Gambians, showing massive increment in some areas.
According to the minister, the new changes are as follows; Permit A (Ecowas) from D1,850 to D3000, Permit B (Ecowas) from D1,850 to D2,500,
Permit B (Non-Ecowas) from D3,100 to D5000,
Alien Card from D1,500 to D2,500, Entry Visa from D3,000 to D7,000, Entrance Clearance from D3,000 to D7,000, Machine Readable Passport from D1,000 to D3,000, Naturalization for Ecowas nationals from D5,000 to D25,000 and for Non-Ecowas Nationals from D15,000 to D75,000.
But responding to media questions on the increment, Minister Keita said the new tariffs are the cheapest in the subregion.