Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Yaya Jammeh intends to raise taxes in 2016 to finance his re-election campaign

Chairman Carayol of the IEC
The Finance Minister's Appropriation Bill of 2015 to parliament opens up a window into the Gambian dictator's thinking into how he intends to handle the upcoming presidential elections and how he intends to use the budget to his reelection campaign - provided that he is not denied the privilege to participate.

In the past, Jammeh had used the budget as part of his reelection campaign by funding his so-called "development projects" including his numerous bridges-to-nowhere, most of which, from a development standpoint, have proven to be white elephant projects.  Admittedly, these projects did achieved the desired objects and effects they were meant to i.e. to score propaganda points against the electorates.

Presently, the budget is once again seen as a source of finance for the ruling party by increasing domestic spending for what the Finance Minister described as "to cater for the settlement of existing arrears, OMVG contributions and 'government intervention' to further invest into the education sector, including availing more scholarship to students."  The legally accrued arrears are binding and must be paid off.   The OMVG contribution must also be paid, particularly when Senegal and Guinea have just contracted a loan from the European Investment Bank to finance another phase of the interconnection of West Africa's power grid.

Buried among these legitimate expenditure proposals are innocent-sounding budget subheads under all-encompassing phrases like 'government intervention' to further invest in the education sector and more scholarships.  

Funds allocated to these subheads are routinely diverted to ruling party's political activities and the forthcoming election year will be no exception.  Full scholarships for the duration of the academic program is a rarity under Jammeh.  Most of the recipients experience interruptions in their studies for non-payment of tuition.  The lucky ones are those with Taiwan scholarships because it was directly handled by the Taiwan government.

In addition to the planned investment in education and scholarships, Jammeh also intends to increase "infrastructural spending" by 43%.   During his provincial tour, he indicated that his regime plans to finance a bridge over the Gambia River at Basse to connect the town to Niakoi on the North Bank. All indications are he intends to finance the project using local resources.

All of these new expenditures cannot be financed without heavy local borrowing, further aggravating a domestic debt problem that has been crowding out the private sector, starving it of much-needed investment funds to expand and create jobs for a very youthful population.
Finance Minister, Abdou Kolley

During the current budget cycle, both the World Bank and the African Development Bank provided budget support to the regime this easing its budget problems.  However, the Finance Minister is serving notice to the parliament that no budget support will be available in 2016 because the development partners have ceased such financial assistance.

How is Yaya Jammeh proposing to finance these additional expenditures in 2016 ?  According to his Finance Minister, he intends to raise taxes (income, VAT, sales and capital gains) to pay for his election campaign.  It is, therefore, not a coincidence that the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Mr. Mustapha Carayol, also used the occasion of the presentation of the Appropriation Bill of 2015 containing the Budget Estimates for 2016 to announce that the next presidential elections will be held on 1st December 2016 which serves as a notice and reminder to members of parliament of the high stakes involved in next year's budget.