By Mustapha Darboe
The National Assembly members have expressed concern over the country’s unsustainable security spending as they debated budget allocations for various sectors.
Finance Minister Amadou Sanneh admitted that the country’s budget for defense, which includes the military, and the interior are unsustainable and thus needs reexamination.
“Honourable members what we have now as a security budget is beyond this country’s resources… I must say I am glad we realise it but also acknowledging that this is an issue,” Sanneh said on Thursday evening.
“So we hope the security sector reform will tell us exactly what Gambia needs in terms of defense that is the army, taking into account our current situation.”
Sanneh said it is not just the interior and the defense ministries that took a combined 1.2 billion but also the civil service that needs reassessment, as was “done in Rwanda”.
“So the big challenge is what do we do if there is an excess? But I don’t want to preempt that. It is the same thing when we say we need a civil service reform to audit the staff numbers. No one wants to be laid off. It is not a pleasant thing but as a nation, we want efficiency and productivity,” he argued.
“We have to make the best use of our human resources. Overstaffing and dumping people in places just for employment are not helping the country or the economy. And at the end of the day, what happens is that all the funds you use to develop, is used on recurrent expenditures. We want an efficient and productive civil service,” the finance minster said
Sanneh reminded lawmakers of the austerity measures Gambia made in 1985 which caused some redundancy in the public sector.
“Everybody is talking about Rwanda, their economic reforms and transformation after their crisis. These are some of the measures they have taken. Botswana has taken the same measures,” he said.
“Obviously with this motor vehicle policy, some people will be affected. If your vehicle is out of the road then you may not be able to drive again under the government. But that does not mean you cannot drive. We have put D20 million packages at the Personnel Management Office which will be used to help such people,” he said.
“So some things are painful but for a greater Gambia we have to take those decisions. It is the same thing when we are taking from directors their vehicles asking them to buy their own.”
One such areas were the huge foreign affairs budget largely caused by opening of four new embassies and the little youth ministry budget at a time of lower youth unemployment and increased irregular migration.
The lawmakers have chided the executive’s decision to open four new embassies instead of downsizing them.
Meanwhile the lawmakers have also unanimously voted to approve the country’s 9 billion dalasi budget which entails a controversial allocation of D330 000 to the First Lady’s office, the creation of which is not in the constitution.
The creation of the First Lady’s office does not exist in the Gambian constitution but invented it and Barrow kept it.
“Allocating funds to the office of the first lady, an office that is not created in law, is unconstitutional,” veteran lawmaker Halifa Sallah argued.
Minister Sanneh admitted that though the rationality and constitutionality of the creation of the office is arguable, it is necessary.
“Well, you can argue the rationality of it. Is it necessary? If you look at the diplomatic environment in which we operate, you have first ladies’ meetings in Africa. They do some small roles here and there…,” Sanneh said.
“You can look at it in another way and say it is not in the constitution but the constitution gives the president the authority to create new institutions, although this one will be his (chuckles) first lady. It is up for debate and review. I will discuss this with the Office of the President…
“I can share your views with the office of the president and we try to find a conceptual position that is acceptable to this august Assembly as well as the entire Gambia.
“But what has been provided there is very minimal. It is just a permanent secretary and a protocol officer that are moving with her. So that is why it is D330 000.”