Public sector performance can be improved in The Gambia

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By Dr. Ousman Gajigo One of the biggest impediments to the efficiency of the public sector in The Gambia is the lack of capacity. The limited capacity is in turn constrained by the very poor pay rate in government jobs. After all, few people would willingly take a very low salary when given the opportunity to earn higher in the private sector or work externally. Not only has the real wage in the public sector failed to keep pace with rising cost, it has actually been decreasing when adjusted for inflation. While there is no easy fix for a perpetually budget constrained public sector, there are actually solutions. There are implementable solutions to improve the compensation for public servants that does not involve relying on foreign assistance or the government taking on further debt. All that is required is for the government to prioritize expenditures, close or restructure unnecessary ministries and merge others into existing ones. Closing the Ministry of Defense The most wasteful expenditure in The Gambia is the budget allocation for the Ministry of Defense. This ministry consumes about GMD 700 million annually. This is a huge amount of waste for a ministry that is not needed at all by the country. The ultimate goal of a military is for the external defense of a country. Given the unique geographic feature of The Gambia, we are safe from external threat. The best way to safeguard the security of The Gambia is for greater economic integration with Senegal. As long as The Gambia maintains good relations with Senegal, this neighbor provides us with the necessary security buffer against any external threat. There is no other justification for a military in The Gambia. What the country needs is better internal security. So the resources currently allocated to the military are better spent on internal law enforcement. Merging the Ministry of Higher Education with MOBSE into a Single Ministry of Education The Gambia has no need for a separate Ministry of Higher Education that is separated from the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MOBSE). All this separation has achieved is duplication of costly positions. The country has a small higher education sector that is best positioned within one single Ministry of Education for an effective and integrated education sector. The current budget for the Ministry of Higher Education is approximately GMD 150 million. While this amount is small relative to the budget for MOBSE, the amount would be better spent in the Ministry of Education and devoted towards more urgent problems such as low teachers’ salaries. Reduce the Size of the External Affairs Ministry Cultivating and maintaining relations with other countries is vital for any country. And The Gambia is no exception. However, given our limited resources, the country should be very selective in which countries it opens embassies. Lately, some of the countries where we have established diplomatic relations make no sense strategically. This includes Armenia and Russia. This is in addition to countries such as Cuba and Venezuela where we have long existing embassies. It makes no strategic sense for The Gambia to maintain embassies in these countries. Foreign embassies are quite expensive to staff and maintain. Reducing and rationalizing our foreign embassies has been one of the fiscal measures recommended by the IMF, which the government has in fact committed to on paper but so far does not seem fit to implement. What adds to the staffing cost of these embassies has been the recent unnecessary practice of the government embedding SIS staff, as well as appointing military attaches. Given how unnecessary the military is in the first place, it is doubly nonsensical for the country to be appointing military attaches in embassies. The Gambia total annual government budget of about USD 400 million. This amount is small by any standard and the country is already highly indebted. In fact, public debt is currently 120% of GDP. Raising public servants’ salaries through increases in expenditures is out of the question if we want to maintain fiscal insanity. The only option left for the country is rationalizing expenditures. While these limited set of recommendations will not completely solve the problem, they represent an important step in the right direction. The implementation of the above recommendations is likely to enable the government to significantly improve the amount spent on public sector employees, which currently amounts to USD 50 million. But can we depend on the Ministry of Finance to do the right thing? Ousman Gajigo is an economist. He has held positions with the African Development Bank, the UN, the World Bank and Columbia University. He holds a PhD in development economics. He is currently an international consultant and also runs a farm in The Gambia.]]>