By Momodou Sabally
Honourable Minister and my dear brother,
I salute you in this 4th edition of a series of epistles I started sending your way more than a year ago.
Indeed you are a true son of this country; and as you proudly announced in the halls of our National Assembly, it is not only the case that you are our Minister of Finance and a very important pillar of our governance structure; your parents were also distinguished government officials who played critical roles in the administration of our nation dating back to the First Republic.
Therefore, I was perplexed when the Honourable Sidia Jatta berated you in the National Assembly with some virulent words :”Virement is a fraud!”
With all due respect to the PDOIS NAM, I disagree with that statement; because if I should agree then I would have been doing a disservice to my own conscience. The fact is that you cannot implement a budget in the framework of the Gambia’s macroeconomic realities without doing virements. In other words, virement is a necessary evil in budget implementation.
Having said that, Honourable Minister, Hon. Sidia Jatta still has a point because the necessity of virement is understood as a last resort when there is a genuine and urgent case for it. But as the honourable gentleman from Wulli rightly observed, what you did was to “butcher the budget” and that constitutes an alarming travesty of justice because the budget is law.
And if you do not agree with me on the above contention as advanced by Honourable Jatta, then consider the words of the brilliant nominated member, the learned Ya Kumba Jaiteh. Certainly, the young lady has spoken the truth and nothing but the truth because beyond the letter of our statutes, we must also breath the spirit of the law if justice is to have any real chance of prevailing in our performance of duties of office.
Therefore I totally concur with Honourable Jaiteh as she lucidly argued regarding your fiscal malfeasance: “When we appropriate, there is a reason why we go through the budget line by line and that whole purpose would be defeated if you have powers to do whatever you want with the money. We appropriate for a specific purpose for the services required so if you want to change it you must come to us for approval,”
Therefore the member for Banjul South took the right courageous stance by asking the relevant committee of the National Assembly to hold your ministry in contempt since you keep insisting that what you are not doing anything wrong by reallocating more than a billion Dalasis in the 2020 budget without approval from the authority that legislated that budget.
Honourable Minister, I never wanted to get to a fourth edition of this series because I thought that the old trite saying “a word to the wise is enough” would have kicked into your mind by now. But it looks like you have further doubled down in your open defiance of, not only the laws of our country, but also the makers of that law, our National Assembly.
Even when the learned honourable lady in the Assembly tried to respectfully explain to you that your butchering of the budget is illegal, you remained defiant with chutzpah: we are guided by the Public Finance act and we heavily rely on it. and up to this minute, we will continue to rely on it!
What flagrant bravado you continue to demonstrate in the face of the representatives of the tax payers whose resources you are playing with in the budget.
You did try to browbeat the majority leader of the Aseembly the last time with your melodramatic performance of the “I will not resign” chorus. And this time around you further advanced your personal ethos of the typical ‘ndongo’ attitude of ‘maa tei’ with a transgression of legal import when you said again at the Assembly
“We stand by what we did and we are convinced that it is the right thing to do!”
Therefore, since you are hell bent on the ‘ndongo’ recalcitrance, is it not about time that we invited you to the bushy corners of Sukuta Sabiji and implement the metaphorical suggestion of the savvy social media commentator Natta Mass “At some point, someone’s gotta make the call; “alaa daa fix.”
I do not know what gimmicks you are going to play in the corridors of the National Assembly to do what you are best at: leverage network to get your way out of every mess you concoct. But there is a critical mass of patriots armed with legal bludgeons ready to confront you head-on. Even if our National Assembly members fail to reach consensus at the voting floor due to your connections in the higher echelons of that body, the clarion call for you to be censored is already too high to be muted.
As I finalise this letter, information has been released from your Ministry about the expenditures made, so far, from the more than 1 billion Dalasis, set aside for COVID related spending through your butchering of the budget. It is sad and disappointing to realise that Out of D41 million spent by the Ministry of Health, 75% was spent on non-essential stuff, being vehicle purchases, allowances and hotel bills; meanwhile, equipment gets less than 1 percent of the total amount spent by Dr. Samateh and his team.
Honourable Minister, is this your idea of fiscal prudence in these trying times?
Former research economist and National Budget Director, Momodou Sabally has undergone extensive professional training in macroeconomics and public financial management at the IMF Institute, the Central Bank of England’s Center for Central Banking Studies, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and holds a masters degree in Economics from Georgia State University in the US.