Spending D86 million on national celebrations in the face of a domestic debt of 13.5 billion is financial indiscipline
The battle cry of the movement for self determination and independence pioneered by Edward Francis Small in The Gambia among others in Africa is: “No taxation without representation!”
This clarion call combines three fundamental demands of public service, that is, democracy, transparency and accountability. This slogan calls for the transfer of the ownership of power from monarchs to the people. It transforms governance from a privilege into a service. Those who used to serve as rulers above scrutiny were transformed into public servants who are subject to public scrutiny.
In short, taxation makes the people owners of national wealth. Representation transforms those who manage their national wealth into public servants who must be transparent in the way they manage it and are held accountable to the electorate through periodic elections.
The fiscal policy of the Jammeh administration which governs how much revenue is collected from taxation and how it is spent should be of paramount importance to all who are interested on how The Gambia is governed. On 19 November 2014, a bill was introduced to request for additional sum of money amounting to one billion, one hundred and thirty four million, six hundred and ninety-five thousand, nine hundred and forty-eight dalasis.
The minister told the National Assembly that the object of this bill is to provide additional sums for the services of the Republic of The Gambia for the period 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2014.
The people would recall that on Tuesday 19 December 2013 the Minister of Finance did introduce a bill “to provide for the services of The Gambia for the period 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2014. How could a bill be introduced on 19 November 2014 to cover a period of 10 months prior to its introduction without giving it retroactive application? Needless to say any Appropriation bill which is designed to have retroactive application implies the coverage of expenditure which had already been made before approval. This would be grossly unconstitutional.
Section 151 of the Constitution is categorical that ‘no money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated fund unless it is authorised by law’.
The constitution is very clear on when additional funds could be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund.
Section 153 of the Constitution states that “…… if in respect of any financial year it is found that the amount appropriated under the Appropriation Act is insufficient or that a need has arisen for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by that Act a supplementary estimate shall be laid before the National Assembly before the expenditure has been incurred.”(our emphasis)
Estimates must be laid before expenditure has been incurred. Hence a Minister could only have justification for submitting a supplementary estimate to the National Assembly if the amount allocated by an Appropriation Act is insufficient or if other needs arise for which no amount had been allocated. In both cases it is mandatory that the estimate would be presented to the National Assembly before the expenditure is made.
Hence to present estimates to the National Assembly in November2014 to cover expenditures dating from January 2014 is grossly unconstitutional. The dictates of conscience and the National interest should have compelled National Assembly members to inquire which expenditures had already been incurred and expunge them from the estimates as unauthorised expenditures which defy law and good governance.
It is important to point out that the National Assembly has been informed before the introduction of the Supplementary Appropriation Bill that in 2013 the budget deficit including grants stood at 2.7 billion dalasis. Borrowing was relied on to finance the deficit. Domestic borrowing to finance the deficit stood at 2.2 billion dalasis.
Hence the domestic debt has been growing and has reached 13.5 billion dalasis. In 2010 the Minister of Finance referred to the fiscal performance by asserting that the country experienced “revenue shortfalls and expenditure overruns.” They promised to raise addition revenue and put checks on expenditure by employing financial discipline. However, the budget deficit for 2011 stood at 1.210 billion dalasis. In 2013 the fiscal deficit rose to 2.7 billion dalasis. Hence within a span of two years the budget deficit has doubled. Where then is the financial discipline?
Financial discipline means adherence to a budget which speaks the language of priorities. This is why the Supplementary estimate forwarded to the National Assembly in November 2014 is of national concern.
The expenditure items are most revealing. The Office of the President is allocated the lion’s share of 459.47 million dalasis. 86 million goes to finance national celebrations; 133 million goes to finance travel expenses namely, the salaries of crew, insurance cover and air ticket; 112 Million is to be spent on vehicles and 95 million on hotel accommodation for general service. In our view, a country whose domestic debt is increasing should not spend 86 million dalasis on national celebrations.
A PDOIS administration would commemorate the birth of the Republic on 24 April 1970 as a national day to reflect on the rights and duties associated with our full attainment of the right to self determination and Independence. During this day all communities, schools and government offices would have open days to have discussions, plays, songs and would eat and share to raise awareness regarding the significance of the day and develop a spirit of togetherness. . Civil society segments would also have the right to hold processions and hand over petitions to government institutions and officials on how to improve the delivery of public services and promote constitutional, legal, institutional and administrative reform. The members of the Cabinet and National Assembly would have an official gathering to be addressed by the government on policy issues and host a reception. Children would no longer have to stand in the heat waiting for speeches they could listen to at school or at home through radio and television.
Days like 18 February when the process of development towards the founding of the republic started and 16 January when the second republic came into being would be commemorated as open days for people to do as they please to increase their awareness and build sense of family, community, nationhood and humanity. Days like the founding of the third republic as well as days set aside by the continent to mark liberation day and days set for world freedom by the international community would be commemorated in like manner. We will add value to commemorations without increasing the domestic debt.
In the same vein, a PDOIS administration would establish a joint public /private airline so that there would be no need to maintain a state aircraft and crew but would be able to finance the flight of the executive through dividend accrued from government investment in the airline. This would save the country hundreds of millions of dalasis. In short, it is unthinkable that a head of state would travel out of the country every month. However, even if that did happen it is unimaginable that he or she would spend more than a million dalasis a trip on travel expenses. This would amount to 12 million dalasis annually. In 2012, 96 million dalasis was allocated from the national budget for the maintenance of state aircraft. In 2013 a sum of 26 million was allocated for the maintenance of state aircraft and in 2014 a sum of 27 million was approved for the maintenance of state aircraft. This is unthinkable under a PDOIS administration.
In terms of transportation and vehicles PDOIS intends to establish a Gambia National River Transport Corporation to promote river transport of heavy materials to save our road networks, open up both banks of the river to free movement of goods and services, facilitate commercial road transport from wharves to the hinterland and provide a transport fund for the purchase of public vehicles without relying heavily on taxation and domestic borrowing.
In the same vein we must rationalise the opening of embassies. In the supplementary budget 42 million dalasis is allocated for the settlement of rent arrears for missions, 5 million on maintenance of buildings and 1.9 million on furniture and fittings. Why should a government open up an embassy only to have arrears in paying rent? This simply means the cart was put before the horse or that the resources allocated for an item was diverted for other use. If the sum to maintain an embassy is provided for before it is opened and if the funds are utilised for the purpose intended then there would be no arrears.
To conclude it is important for the public to note that no Appropriation Bill could be passed without the votes of National Assembly members. They are required by the constitution to be influenced by the dictates of conscience and national interest in considering any matter that is put to their charge.
They are capable of stopping any act of financial indiscipline. They should therefore tell the nation whether they condone 86 million dalasis being spent on national celebrations when the nation is nesting on a domestic debt of 13.5 billion dalasis. They have an explanation to give.
Many who belong to the party of the president may say that they could be removed from the party for dissent and thus lose their seat.
What do we have to say to them?
Section 63(3) states: “A person elected as President may at any time during his term of office be removed from office if a no confidence motion is passed in the National Assembly supported by two thirds of the members of the National Assembly.”
Subsection (4) adds: “Where a no-confidence motion is passed in accordance with subsection (3), the speaker shall request the Independent Electoral Commission to call for a referendum within thirty days of the passing of such motion to endorse or reject the decision of the National Assembly and where such decision is endorsed the president shall vacate the office.”
The National Assembly members are very powerful and could stop any unconstitutional behaviour by the executive if they are determined to do so. The party may be able to remove a member from the National Assembly but cannot stop that person from standing in a by-election to take the seat. The executive however has no defence against a vote of no confidence except to create a constitutional crisis which would render it unable to govern. The executive has no choice but to do what is right if the National Assembly utilises its powers of oversight. This is the verdict of truth and commonsense and it is incontrovertible. The voters should take note. They are the final judge.]]>