By Omar Bah
The United States Ambassador to The Gambia, Sharon L. Cromer, has yesterday told National Assembly Members that they bear the weighty responsibility to hold the government accountable.
Addressing a US Embassy-funded Gambia Participates training on budget analysis for lawmakers on the just tabled 2023 budget estimates, Ambassador Cromer said the National Assembly is “a fundamental tenet of healthy democracies as they ensure the balance of power by holding key branches of government accountable”.
“The National Assembly – all of you here today as representatives of the Gambian people bear the weighty responsibility of holding the government accountable. As representatives, each one of you carry the voices of the people in your districts to the Assembly Chambers. In many cases, voices which have been ignored or silenced for far too long,” she added.
According to Ambassador Cromer, with hard work during the retreat, the NAMs can ensure the government heeds the demands and understands the struggles of its people.
“We all know that in the past, the executive branch of government exercised undue power, often ignored the will of the people and punished those brave enough and refused to be silent. But under President Barrow, there is a new freedom and an openness to different viewpoints. Nevertheless, you bear a special responsibility in ensuring responsive and responsible governance. When reviewing the budget, it is important to ask tough questions, to demand answers, to advocate, to research, to listen and perhaps most of all to communicate with your people,” she stated.
She reminded the NAMs that they will be faced with making difficult decisions in seemingly impossible budget radars when everything is priority but “remember the needs of those who trusted you with these positions should guide you. This should not be a combative process – you can work with your colleagues at the ministries to find solutions.”
She said the training will equip the NAMs on budget taxes and legislations.
“These are all important topics but they are simply different facets of a key concept – accountability.”
The executive director of Gambia Participates, Marr Nyang, urged the National Assembly Members to keep in mind the lives of two million Gambians as they begin to scrutinise the 2023 budget estimates.
Mr Nyang said the budget should reflect the needs of the Gambian people.
“The budget will impact over two million of Gambians and non-Gambians whose tax and non-tax payments made up 12% of the country’s 2023 budget. So, it is prudent that it reflects their needs and aspirations,” Nyang said.
Mr Nyang said for the past six years his office has been supporting parliamentarians to have a direct conversation with their constituents on the budget.
He added that Gambia Participates is currently implementing an eighteen months project on strengthening and sustaining fiscal transparency and accountability in The Gambia under the Fiscal Transparency Innovative Fund funded by the US Embassy in Banjul.
“During the project, Gambia Participates will be supporting parliamentarians in their oversight functions on the national budget and as well support the National Assembly budget office in its operation to effectively provide technical budget services to parliamentarians,” he stated.
He said the Gambia Participates will continue to work with the ministry of finance and the National Audit Office to increase communication on fiscal activities in government, especially the timely preparation, submission and consideration of the Auditor General’s report.
According to him, the project will also support civil society in their efforts to ensure the government spends wisely.
The Clerk of the National Assembly, Momodou Sise urged the NAMs to give due consideration to key social sectors such as education, health and agriculture.