I looked forward to the 2019 Budget. It’s finally here and I am having a time of deep reflection over its contents. One of the key sources of poverty in the Gambia is luck of resilience and one of the key imperatives of debt is that it must be repaid.
Well, the Minister of Finance has given Gambians his best. In fact, I heard he say this budget was debated in five Cabinet sittings. This is the same as saying that the budget is a collective effort. However, what is clear is that a budget that progressively increases the allocation to Office of the President and eight State house advisers (“President and the 38 staff that serve as his immediate staff has doubled from about D5million 2018 to nearly D10 in 2019.
This does not include what they are calling responsibility allowance as additional emolument to some of the same immediate staff”) spending provides unparalleled economic mobility that cannot at the same time claim to deliver inclusive growth. The allocation has been rising consistently two-fold from 2018 in 2019 budget.
In comparison, this budget has allocated a huge chunk of our resources to debt servicing which is a legal imperative. When read with other significant pronouncements such as the proposed abolition of the VAT System and the re-introduction of the Sales Tax system, it is apparent that this budget has been prepared and tailored for debt servicing and has got nothing to do with Inclusive growth or being pro-poor.
We can never forget that low taxes and eradication of poverty are at the core of the cherished ideals and promises of President Adama Barrow’s government.
The budget is a quick fix to the current debt problem. The savings from the Sales Tax Refunds might amount to millions. This sounds good. But this is short lived because real growth can only come from developing internal capacity to generate revenue. We need to fix our production capacity and fix our agriculture.
Our Government and all of us as a people need to learn about the power of taking responsibility. We cannot keep blaming everyone else and not taking a hard look at ourselves. Taking responsibility has changed the world twice and we can learn from that.
The Gambia needed to look at its “structure of expenditure” if the immediate future would not be very bleak.
“If you look at the budget proposal, the bulk of government spending is recurrent; recurrent expenditure. That is a big problem that the President with his six special advisers; office of the First Lady and Defense allocated with 25 percent of the country’s annual overhead budget.
You ask: What has changed? Can we go further by calculating how much, since 1997, has gone into maintaining the opulence around our presidents and his special advisers, and senior special assistants with their personal assistants? Can we continue this road and still believe it will lead to a future of success? We have transited from a “dictatorship” to a “quasi-democracy”.
That appears to have been the only thing that has changed in the ecology of governance in this country. Those whose populist mantra in the years of struggle was reform of the structure of the country have since pressed the mute button the moment they hopped on the high horse of power. It is disgraceful that salaries and allocations of the president, first lady and advisors could not increase.
Now, what is the worth of that Gambians lamentation? It was not the first time we would hear Gambians pine and whine over the paralysis of the states of governance and it may not be the last time we hear lamentation. But was President Barrow elected for Gambians to lament and lament? President Barrow was elected to bring change to everything we have had for decades which we thought did not serve us well.
If President Barrow would be as helpless as the Yahya was, what then was the essence of replacing one cripple with another?
This budget does not address poverty. This budget does not stimulate production and does not deliver what Gambians the needs to go forward. But it ensures we have a running Government and that we meet our debt commitments.
If we choose to ignore this reality, we are cheating ourselves. If we take the blame for our mistakes, we shall become our own masters and like Nelson Mandela, we shall be the captains of our souls!