Madi Jobarteh

(JollofNews) – One of the best policies that Barrow can create which could also become one of his best legacies is to re-activate or institutionalize fiscal discipline, transparency and accountability in the public sector. Financial, budgetary and economic management along the lines of transparency and accountability is the single most important area that determines the overall success or failure of a government.

When one looks at the history of successful and failed states the most obvious feature has always been the quality of fiscal discipline. Financial or fiscal disciple always translates into either a clean or a less corrupt country. It means public officials are responsible so that the goods and services they procure are value for money and in line with clear and accountable procedures. Fiscal discipline means therefore public officials and public institutions are able to better manage scarce resources so as to bring about positive changes in the lives of citizens.

We can learn from the APRC Tyranny to show that indeed a lack of financial discipline was the major feature of the corruption, incompetence and the inefficiency of that regime. All throughout Jammeh’s Misrule, each and every Finance minister had lamented that unbudgeted spending was a major setback for the economy. This situation led to increased public debt yet at the same time the government was unable to provide efficient and quality public services hence the high cost of living and increased poverty.

We recall how in each and every year, the Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy would go back to parliament to ask for supplementary budget in hundreds of millions of dalasi even though the government was given its full budget of billions at the beginning of that same year. In fact in 2014, this woman requested a little over one billion dalasi just 40 days before the end of the year. When you look at the details of that 2014 supplementary budget, you would see that D459 million was scandalously allocated to Office of the President alone! This is divided into such items like D86 million for celebrations, D112 million to vehicles, and D30 million to fuel among other outrageous allocations.

Hence what Barrow must be reminded about is the fact that he has to ensure that there is strict financial discipline in his government. Some of the areas that consume huge resources without much benefit are travels, vehicles, fuel and what is called general service. For example in the 2014 supplementary budget, the allocation for travels was the single highest item at D135 million. This is more than the development budget for health, education and agriculture in the 2017 budget. Hence it is important that Barrow changes this culture to ensure that government revenue which is coming from very high taxes and loans with high interest are not wasted on public officials while the masses continue to languish in poverty and deprivation.

Thus the first area to address is the issue of international travels. During the Misrule of Yaya Jammeh it is clear that despite the SCOT or travel clearance, still travels consumed the largest chunk of government expenses. Why? Because the SCOT was not an accountability mechanism as thought, but rather it was a means for Yaya Jammeh to control and intimidate. But since individuals are smart, the SCOT therefore became a means to loot public funds through approved travels that Yaya Jammeh could not even be aware of, much more stop it. If you are in the good books of the regime or cordial with your head of institution you can travel, as you like because you will get necessary support and approval regardless of the budgetary implications or the benefits of the travel to the country.

Hence what we expect Barrow to do is not to continue with SCOT. Rather I expect that first of all Barrow would institute a better policy and measures on international travels. Necessary procedures must be set up under the management of heads of institutions to oversee and implement the policy. The policy should require that there are reasonable travel budgets, justification of travel, means of travel and number of participants for the travel as well as costs of travel. It must also specify the procedures as to how and where air tickets must be obtained. The mode of travel needs to be clear such that shortest routes must be identified while only economy class seats would be purchased. Furthermore the number of days must be such that officials will have to reach their travel destination a day before the conference and return on the immediate day or the next available flight after the end of the conference or meeting. This will therefore also reflect on the amount of perdiem to be paid.

The reports I am getting right now is that some government travels have already gone into more than half a million dalasi and above. This is unacceptable and immoral. Thus the government policy must include that international travels be limited severely. I am concerned that this has not been the case so far because at some point there were at least four government ministers out of the country at the same time. This is a huge cost that our economy cannot sustain at this time. Hence Barrow needs to reduce government travels by establishing a stated government policy and measures on travels.

Barrow needs to be reminded that because of the change of government, some public officials will quickly want to take advantage of the situation to embark on frivolous travels just to make money. This is daylight robbery and it must be stopped. Therefore this policy needs to be made public and also shared with the PAC and PEC of the parliament so that they can audit public accounts with that in mind. Those found to have engaged in unnecessary travels, or used unnecessarily long routes or spent unnecessarily more days or traveled on business class must be surcharged in order to recover the unjustified spending and even taken to court for economic crimes. If Barrow fails to take these urgent measures, there is all likelihood that his government will spend more on traveling while failing to address the socio-economic needs of Gambians. That would be a betrayal of the highest order. For that matter, it is important that the National Assembly also takes up the issue of government travels very seriously.

God Bless the Gambia.