By Amie Sanneh
National Assembly Members (NAMs) are calling on government to spend according to the budget available. Law makers were speaking yesterday, Tuesday, 8 December, at the Assembly’s chambers in Banjul during the debate on the draft budget estimates for 2016 presented to them last week by the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs.
The Member for Niamina Dankunku and Minority Leader, Samba Jallow, adding his voice, said government is not spending within its budget. He said if they need money they should go to the National Assembly first without which they will be spending illegally.
On the domestic debt, he explained that domestic debt alone is D20 billion much more the external debt. According to him, there is need to monitor the budget as most of it is not natural but manmade, adding that they should cut their clothes according to their size. “If we want to spend what is not budgeted, it will just cause problems,” he said.
On salary increment, Hon. Jallow said if there is any salary increment, it should cut across the board and not for them to increase that of the ministers alone and leave the low income earners, describing it as unfair.
The Minority Leader also raised concern on the non appearance of the vice president’s expenditure in the budget when the president’s is highlighted in the budget.
Commenting on tax, Hon. Jallow described the Gambia as tax based economy and most of the businesses are closing for they are not getting any support from the banks due to collaterals and taxation thus making the country to lose income.
On Alien Identity cards, he said D32 million was expected in 2015 but this year they are expecting D3 million. For Identity Cards, it was D34 million to D25 million sighting a significant drop. He however expressed doubt if they will be able to acquire that amount now that ID cards manufacturing are not functional.
According to the minority leader, they did not see any income from sand mining which exists in the country and can boost the economy of the country. He therefore raised the question as to why it is not captured in the budget.
On expenditure on celebrations, he said though cost has been reduced compared to last year’s budget, but with the situation of the economy the cost is still high. He stressed the need for expenditures to be minimized due to the mode of the economy.
On external support, he said he does not know why the country is not receiving it whether it is due to the governance system, respect the rule of law, respect human rights amongst others. He said the country needs external support noting that the economy alone cannot sustain the country’s affairs.
Hon. Jallow said government needs to invest a lot in agriculture, for most Gambians are engage in farming. He said recently they have witnessed what is happening in the Ministry of Agriculture with series of arrests which he said is not helping the ministry. “If in a year, three times or five times at the ministry of Agriculture most of them are arrested how will the ministry function? He asked. The ministry will not function and agriculture is the background of the Gambian economy,” he remarked.
He opined that last year, there was rainfall and the harvest was good, so he said he does not believe that it contributed negatively to the economy. He explains that sometimes government fails to purchase goods from farmers at the right time. According to the Minority Leader, some farmers take their produce and sell it outside the country.
The Majority Leader and Member for Serrekunda East, Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta said despite the challenges on the outbreak of Ebola, the Gambian economy is still strong. He however stressed the need for them to ensure effective financial management and for them to move from consumption spending to development spending. He said it is disheartening that inflation is on the rise.
“We are aware of the spending pressures but it is evident that we must be prepared to manage these pressures to bring down our domestic borrowing,” he said.
The Majority Leader said the expenditure has reversed the gains they got from effective revenue collection. He said fiscal deficit is expected to be 3.6 billion which is 9.6 per cent of GDP by end December 2015.
Hon. Jatta stated that it is critical to restrain government spending within the available resources to reduce the deficit. Debt interest payment which is expected to consume about 43% of government’s revenue in 2016 compared to 35% in 2015 according to him is a serious increment.
Hon. Sainey Mbye, NAM for Upper Saloum, described the draft budget estimate as realistic and not a cooked up one. He noted that government intends to carry out lots of projects in 2016 and which cannot go without funding. He therefore called on Gambians to pay their taxes on time for government to be able to carry out its activities.
Also contributing to the debate, the member for Upper Niumi, Hon. Mam Cherno Jallow, said what they always want is the facts which are stated in the draft estimates budget. He urged government to spend according to its budget. He also stressed the need for them (NAMs) to monitor the budget and be receiving quarterly reports from Finance Ministry for them to know how it is spent.
The member for Niamina East also added his voice to the debate.
The Minister of Finance and Economy Affairs was supposed to respond to some of the concerns raised by the law makers but was asked to go and prepare himself to be able to give adequate answers.
Sitting continues today.