Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Finance Minister tries to conceal the facts

Budget Speeches used to be Statements of Government Policy going into the new fiscal year, and a review of preceding years’ performance, in words and figures, but primarily in words.  The numbers portion of the process is contained in the Budget Estimates.  In both cases, however, budget implementation benchmarks served as measures of past, present and future performance.  It was also a place to announce new policy measures.  That was then, this is now.

We've combed through the Finance Minister's 42-page 2014 Budget Speech, and found nothing of substance except the regurgitation of the regime’s repeated promises to donors that it will be more fiscally responsible in the coming year.  It never does and we have demonstrated year after year that this regime has no intention of holding down domestic borrowing to a manageable or sustainable level because there is no one in The Gambia who will challenge the insatiable demands of Jammeh to satisfy his personal comfort and safety at the expense of everyone else.  He coughs, everybody jumps.

The brevity and inanity of the speech was an inevitability because of the casual treatment of important sectors of the economy received from the Hon. Minister was designed to conceal the fact that the 2014 Budget was no different from the last.  For example, the entire agriculture sector was treated to a 4-sentence 2-paragraph statement, and no mention of the groundnut sub-sector, the biggest foreign exchange earner.  The energy and petroleum sectors received a couple of sentences each, and nothing on exploration except to tell Gambians that the National Petroleum Company built several petrol stations at the cost of over a million dollars.  Who really cares?  Government should not be in the business of retailing petrol in the first instance. 

Gambia's foreign policy was treated to a whole sentence about the strategic interests of Gambia, and not a word about the fiscal impact, if any, the withdrawal would have following the withdrawal from the Commonwealth.  Nothing also on the severance of diplomatic relations with Taiwan and the budgetary implications of such an asinine move WILL have, and consequently, what adjustments are called for and their budgetary implications.

GPA, NAWEC, SSHFC, GAMTEL and the other government parastatals were not treated individually, and nothing was said of their financial performance over the 2013 fiscal year, and certainly nothing about going forward with these bankrupt companies that are an obvious drag on the budget and the economy.  Since it is not a pretty story, the Finance Minister conveniently ignored them.  Gambians would have liked to hear from their government about plans to replace the decrepit Banjul – Barra ferries or the ‘floating coffins’ for short in which they are forced to travel in crossing the 7 nautical mile stretch each day to get to and from work or to the market place.  Heavy-duty Senegalese trucks that had to make a detour to the Bamba Tenda – Yelli Tenda crossing are now faced with another set of problems of having to pay in foreign currency, a policy that went into effect without notice resulting in boycotts of the ferry services by truck drivers.  The budget speech would have been an appropriate place to notify users in advance, but that is too much to ask of a regime that seem to get a kick out of inflicting pain on its citizens as well as its neighbors.

 It is not until you get to the annexes, especially the pie charts, that one begins to see what the budget narrative tried to conceal.  This regime, as I have said in earlier posts, intends to continue to pursue its failed policies of spending disproportionate amount of our taxes on the security of one man through the President's Office and allied security agencies, primarily Defense and Interior Ministries, at the expense of agriculture, trade, employment, health, social welfare and the development of the Gambian youth.  The pie charts clearly confirm our suspicions, no matter how hard the folks at the Finance Ministry tried to conceal the evidence in their presentations.  Again, Ministers and officials in the civil service will continue to dance to the tune of a dictator who has little or no regard for the general welfare of Gambians.  And until he's gotten rid off and soon, the budget will continue to reflect his wishes and those of his business associates, and not those of the Gambian taxpayer.