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"Transparency And Accountability" (The Budget And The People)

January 31, 2018

Following the nomination of all presidential aspirants in November last year, it was clear from the onset that Gambians were drifting towards a new direction. "CHANGE" was all they needed and as unprecedented as it was, majority turned to the opposition coalition to salvage the country from Jammeh's long grip on power.

But what exactly was it that won the confidence of the people to rally behind the coalition?. Simple but powerful, the catchwords used by President Barrow and his entourage were "transparency and accountability".

One year on, these campaign catchwords are being seriously tested. It is puzzling how politicians can easily forget campaign promises once they assume office. Undoubtedly the second most important document after the constitution, the national budget for each financial year serves as the main guide for the implementation of all government plan of activities and projects for the citizenry and anything that is not catered for in the budget will just not happen!

Last week, Gambia's minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Hon. AmadouSanneh presented budget estimates before parliament projected at a significant increment of 19 billion dalasis as oppose to the 2016 budget of 12 billion dalasis.

It is an open secret that The Gambia is a tax base economy that relies solely on agriculture and tourism as well as foreign support to meet its budgetary demands. The rise in estimates could be attributed to many factors, but there are numerous questions surrounding the country's 2018 national budget.

How did government come to conclude on the projected 19b dalasis? Where will they get the funds from? Will they increase tax to meet the 19b dalasi mark? Are they relying on foreign grants? If yes, how about the grants we have over the years accumulated that we are yet to settle?

These and many other questions have been raised by concern citizens over the past few days. Wouldn't it have been a good start for a new government to keep its campaign promises and have an all inclusive citizen driven budget?

At a pre-budget dialogue organised last Friday by Beakanyang Association and Gambia participates with support from the International Republican Institute attended by a cross section of society including key government officials notably among them the director of budget at the ministry of Finance.

As the dialogue progressed it became apparent that there still exist a big gap between government and the people thanks to ill-equip communication mechanisms employed by government. For many of the speakers, the argument surrounded why government didn't engage its citizens during the process of preparing the national budget to know firsthand what their concerns are? And why Gambians have not been privy to what is in the budget estimates and give their inputs before the final draft is prepared?

Interestingly, the Director of budget at the ministry of Finance argued that it was legal for government to technically bar the public from knowing what is in the budget estimates until its approved by parliament citing certain provisions in the constitution.

Given the importance of the national budget, and the fact that these constitutional provisions that government is relying on to bar its citizens from knowing the contents of the national budget estimates contradicts the coalition manifesto that prominently featured transparency and accountability as the bases of its functions if elected into office, it is therefore only natural that those clauses be repealed soonest for the greater good of all.

This will encourage citizen participation while cementing government's image as a transparent all-inclusive citizen driven regime. I therefore hope that government takes note and keep its campaign catchwords.

By: Ansumana S.O Nyassi