Gambia's large fiscal deficits that have been plaguing the economy for over a decade did not occur in a vacuum and neither were they accumulated without the endorsement of the National Assembly. Therefore, members of the Assembly have helped create the mess, they can help clean up the mess by simply voting down the next Supplementary Budget request which is expected to be submitted by the Ministry of Finance in the next fortnight or so. This is, of course, and as the saying goes, easier said than done.
The fiscal deficit is financed primarily by domestic borrowing. The borrowing is done by government from the Central Bank to finance its projects, and pay for other government activities. Domestic borrowing has exploded under this regime, especially since 2000/2001 starting with the then presidential elections.
Last year, a total supplementary budget request by the Finance Ministry amounted to D471 million which was submitted to the National Assembly and approved near unanimous vote. D102 million of this amount or approximately 25% of the additional monies requested went to the President's Office, of which D43 million was supposedly for the maintenance of "state aircraft." Why should we be paying for the operation and maintenance of an aircraft or a fleet of aircrafts where official records do not exist showing that they were purchased by the Government of The Gambia. If we do not own the aircrafts why are we being asked to pay for their operations and maintenance?
I am using this case to illustrate how the budgetary process is being used increasingly by Yaya Jammeh to conceal dubious expenditures now that Allah's Bank has been placed under receivership. The Office of the President is not an operational agency, and therefore cannot justifiably have a budget that twice the size of the Ministry of Agriculture or the combined budgets of the Judiciary and the National Assembly. This is exemplifies the Imperial Presidency of Yaya Jammeh where the rest of us are being asked to go eat cake.
My difference with the International Monetary Fund is how to go about getting the deficits under control. Granted, the Fund has over a number of years warned about the problem, about how it slows down economic growth and development, and consistently urged government to reduce the overspending. Instead, these deficits have been going up and spiraling out of control. Jammeh is undisciplined and so is his government and therefore cannot restore fiscal sanity without the application of external pressures.
This brings me to the National Assembly which has been an integral part of the deficit problem because all expenditures must be approved by the parliamentary body which has not been spared of the dictatorial tendencies of the regime. Their role as representatives of the people has been compromised through the application of governing party's rules. The APRC selects them to stand as candidates. They can be expelled not only from the party but from the National Assembly as well if they should fall out of party line. The party is Jammeh.
The Fund, acting in concert with donor agencies, must start addressing these blatant forms of intimidation by the dictatorship that amounts to usurpation of the power of the electorate to elect their members of parliament who should be answerable to them, and not to a political party or an individual. Donor support and encouragement of the Assembly Members is necessary to allow them to 'break away' from the grip of Yaya Jammeh. It is only then that National Assembly can begin to act independently, including saying 'no' to the next supplementary budget request that is due before them shortly.
This approach, of course, raises a series of questions of external interference into the political process and the like. But one could argue that such interferences already exist anyway, and as long as an independent National Assembly contributes to good governance, and good governance is a necessary ingredient in economic progress, it is worth trying this approach. The leverage exists within the donor community, and it should be used.