Did you ever wonder what Gambia may need money (or economic resources) for?

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The Gambia

Your Money – Sources, Purposes & Management

Did you ever wonder what Gambia may need money (or economic resources) for?

How do Gambia get these monies?

Did you thought (or told or heard) Jawara/Yahya and now Barrow  provides these monies?

How about how Gambia’s monies (economic resources are managed (use)?

We attempt to debunk these myths in Gambia.

Each modern nation-state is large enough to have NEEDS/WANTS that no 1 individual member can effectively/efficiently provide. Some will be prohibitivelyexpensive, others simply not feasible while many not practical. Try having your own road from Banjul to Koina and back – not feasible. Or school your kids from Kindergarten to your own university graduate school – not practical. How about your own fully equip hospital or airport, etc. – will be too expensive maintain? These are the common welfare needs/wants of each society – roads, schools, protection/security, sanitary environment, etc. ALL of us has to pay into ‘one-gold-pot’through taxation to be able to procure society’s needs/wants. Central to this approach is ‘economies of scale’ – collective can provide most (or all) these needs/wants cheaply and efficiently. For instance, in 1999 (my last year in Banjul) my annual wage income tax was about GMD30,000/annum from which I used the road network, police services, hospital services, schools, etc.  By myself that sum cannot afford me all those services.

No president provides his/her nation with common welfareneeds/wants. Not Jawara or Yahya and certainly not Barrow. These men were/are our employed servants. As president, they’re Manager-in-Chief of our nation’s economic resources. We handsomely compensate them monthly for their services. To be charitable with words these 3 men come from very humble (or even distressed) backgrounds. Even if they wish to provide for Gambia they don’t have the means.

Long before modern nation states, mankind devised taxation to pay for lifestyle of territorial kings/queens. Medieval kings/queens taxed their subjects to pay for their living usually in exchange for territorial security. Those kings/queens wage wars to expand territory and as well fortify to ensure stream of taxes. Modern nation states fine-tuned the practice to finance among others societal needs/wants. In a democratic republic like ours (supposedly) the authority to tax citizens/residentsimplicitly/explicitly comes from the sovereign people of The Gambia. Those tax revenues are exclusively to procure our common needs/wants.

Consequently, taxes are the seed money of The Gambia. The Department of Treasury are charged with tax collection and management of the funds. That’s a central, core, and traditional function of a democratic government. Yet Yahya created an almost private entity (or Quasi-private) with unelected Board of Directors called Gambia Revenue Authorities parallel to the Treasury’s. Barrow has since maintained GRA. Every year GRA Commissioner of Taxes plus his/her board of directors will decide at will how much they spend partying at our cost for being collectors. Each of those annual jamborees are always north of GMD250,000. A quarter of a million is good fraction ofan annual tax revenue less than GMD10b. The amount is after-all not the point – they shouldn’t dine on the poor tax paying Gambians. PERIOD! Besides every GRA employee enjoys a monthly salary for their services. Misappropriation of taxpayer resources should be a very serious crime (close to treasonable offense) but in Gambia corruption/misappropriation, etc. seems to be an Emmy Award Winning Prize.  

The Treasury supposed to account for what comes in. They pay government’s bills. They make investment decisions to create additional values. They also save for rainy-day-funds. That will be good management of people’s monies. Judicious/prudent management is important because nature dictates that ‘our needs/wants always surpass our resources’. Economics taughtus issues around scarcity and choices.

Look at Gambia’s reported revenues/incomes a year under each president.  The basic takeaway is our annual tax revenue of under GMD10 (US$200m) is simply too small. In The Gambia anywhere from D0.45 – D0.65 of every dalasi earned and spent go to taxes. Hence, of an economy of about US$1.3b (GMD65b) GDP our tax revenue should be about US$585m (D29.25b) – US$845 (D42.25b). The second table down illustrated how taxes affect each dalasi earned and spent in the Gambia. GDP is the final market value of annual aggregate production of the whole of Gambia. That’s the production supposedly taxed and/or should have been taxed. May be Finance/Economic Affairs Minister can explain why the reported budget revenues are only 15% of GDP.  Equally non-tax revenues of less than GMD1b are unacceptable. This is the pool among others, should account for payments of Contractually Agreed Performance Dividends of all the SOEs. Failure to meet such contract terms for any extended period should result to firing of board members and directors at minimum. We haven’t heard any such action. Have you?

Table below shows reported budgeted revenues for specifiedyears/presidents.

Revenues/Incomes of The Gambia in billions

Jawara/1994

Yahya/2017

Barrow/2018

Barrow/2019

Taxes

0.60

7.86

8.5

11.8

Non-taxes

0.08

0.67

1.0

1.0

Grants

0.09

5.8

10.2

12.5

Loans

0.77

14.33

19.7

25.3

TAXES: As stated earlier taxes are the seed monies of Gambia. From taxes on personal income such as wages, business earnings, etc. to consumption taxes such as buying candle, rice, sugar, gasoline, etc. Buying a cup of rice/sugar (or bag) is a taxable event. Our government taxed importers of thesecommodities at ports of entry which costs are transferred on to consumers. Equally those businesses faced several establishment taxes, surcharges, royalties, etc. which costs are also transferred to consumers. A fraction of all (or most) at the door price of any goods/services accounts for taxes levied and/or will be charged in the near future. Matrix below illustrates how an income earned and spent in Gambia pays taxes. Even a checking account in The Gambia pays a value added tax (VAT).

How Taxes Take Away Your Money

Income

Prices

Personal Income tax Rate

Tax  Bill

Cash Bal.

D5000/month

15%

D750

D4250.00

Consumption

1 bag of rice

D1300

25%

D  325.00

D2950.00

Monthly fares

D1000

65%

D 650.00

D1950.00

Fish money (D50x30days)

D1500

30%

D 450.00

D  450.00

Entertainment – attaya, etc.

D  350

55%

D 192.50

D  100.00

Candle/kerosene/electricity

D  100

35%

D  35..00

D0000.00

Sample Tax Bill of a D5000/ mth. income in The Gambia

D2402.50

The rates in this sample are not actuals but educated guesses. My effective tax rate comes 48.05%. In another words every dalasi earned and spent in Gambia D0.4805 bututs go to the government towards paying one form of tax or another. That number is within the range of the actual. Government may or may not classify collected taxes either by source and/or purpose. For instance, taxes levied on fuel are usually designated for road construction and/or road repairs. General funds are mainly for general common welfare needs/wants.

NON-TAXES: This pool accounts for revenues realized from goods/services offered by government such as fees charged for issuance of passports, birth certificates, fines, airport arrival/departure fees, driver’s licenses, identification cards, etc. This is also the pool that house The Performance Contract Dividends from SOEs – assuming they’re paying anything.  Notice that for 2019 government projected a dismal GMD1b (US$200m) for non-tax revenues. Assume only 300,000 passports, ID cards, birth certificates, etc. were issued in 2018. Supposed the combined costs of these services per person areD6000. Supposed D1000 is costs of production of such services person. Hence, government revenue should be 300,000 x D5000 = D1.5b. Supposed each of the 8 or so SOEs pay in dividend of D500,000. That will add up to D0.4b. State land sales, forest product royalties, water resources/fisheries charges, environmental fees, etc. are another pool worth generating more than a billion dalasis above costs. Our conservative estimation already produced about D3b in non-tax revenue.

GRANTS: Begging is another source of revenue of Gambia government. However, it’s difficult to determine and/or accurately project expected grants for budgeting. Furthermore, givers are under no obligation to fulfill promise of gift. In fact, the latter is why some accounting principles frowned on any inclusion of promised grant(s) until is delivered. General grants are usually cash handouts, they usually involve small amounts and invariably short-term. Although general grants are usually cash hand-outs they are not always determined at budgeting. To the extend they are determined and allowed by applicable accounting principle, they could be accounted as revenue. Gambia government also enjoys an annual stream of funds they called ‘Budget Support’. These are cash support to pay wages of public service employees. The earlier stream of these funds was tight to the famous Economic Recovery Program (ERP) and the subsequent Sustainable Development Program (SDP). Now begging and expecting such funds are live-as-usual.This is so entrenched we called these donors (usually Old-EU and USA) DEVELOPMENT-PARTNERS. IS NOT SIMPLY A MISNOMER BUT A DEFEATIST NATIONAL ATTITUDE FOR AN INDEPENDENT NATION TO CONSIDER ANOTHER NATION A PARTNER IN HER DEVELOPMENT. THAT’S LIKE ME CALLING MY BROTHER/DAD/MOM PARTNER TO MY FISH MONEY. I MUST BE A FAILURE. GAMBIANS ARE THE ONLY DEVELOPERS OF GAMBIA. OLD-EU & USA ARE SIMPLY OLD, TRADITIONAL, PRIMARY HELPERS – PERIOD!Like many other grants this so-called ‘Budget Support’ are also not necessarily determined at budgeting to be included with any appreciable accuracy. Other grants come as technical aid. They could be a single/multiple project(s)/program(s) and/or single/multi-year program(s). Often such grants are directly managed by donor expatriate with local counterpart staffing. Good example of such program(s) was/is Gambian German Forestry Project (GGFP), CRD Forestry Project, etc. These were multi-year and billions of dalasis but directly managed by GTZ representatives. The Independent Stadium and Friendship Hostel is another such project – both the loan/grant components were managed directly by China. Lowland Agricultural Development (LADEP) sponsored by African Development Bank is different; was multi-year program and almost entirely run by Gambia. Almost ¾ of funds went to vehicles, fuel, computers (Dell Desk Tops), office renovations and perdiems). Due to thesecomplexities, it’s extremely difficult for planners to determine how much grants will be assessed for a budget period. Where it could be accurately assessed and allowed by applicable accounting principle it could be included. General grants can simply be added to governments general funds while funds tight to specific projects/programs should be offset by such projects/programs at expense-accounts otherwise it will seem we have excess money.

LOANS: Gambia borrowed huge sums of money since independence. The 1st table shows the debt per specified year.

Government is complex set of structures with many working systems, processes and procedures. In a democratic republic like ours (supposedly) the people of The Gambia are the government. Because all 2-million Gambians can’t perform these tasks effectively/efficiently we elect representatives – a subset of Gambian society.

That government is tasked to improve quality of lives of the people of The Gambia with the collected tax resources. Thus, our elected, hired and/or contracted are paid for their time, knowledge/skills and/or goods/services rendered. The tools/equipment they use for work are purchased. The places of work are setup in certain ways/conditions to allow their work. These operational costs are not the reason for paying taxes. They are incidental to the purposes of paying taxes. They are overhead costs. Gambia government budgets reflect these costs as:

i) Personnel emoluments
ii) Recurring costs

As a general rule, all costs should be kept to the lowest possible. Ideally Gambia government shouldn’t cost more than 25% of national revenue and strives harder to bring it down to 10% or lower. That will free-up greater proportion of our monies go to service the intended purposes.

The table below shows costs of government of a given year under each of the 3 presidents.

.

Cost of The Government of The Gambia (in the specified Years) in billions

Jawara/1994

Yahya/2017

Barrow/2018

Barrow 2019

Personnel Emoluments

0.49

2.68

7.51

4.10

Recurring Costs

0.62

2.80

12.58

5.70

Total

1.11

5.48

20.09

9.8

Notice that costs of government are 163% of National Revenue (only taxes & non-taxes) in 1994. That was Jawara’s last budget. For 2017 (Yahya last full year in office) costs of government are 68% of National Revenue. Barrow’s 1st full year in office show costs of government at 211% of National Revenue. Although 2018 budget was drawn by Yahya’s administration, Barrow/Amadou Sanneh revised that budget in June 2018. 2019 budget is entirely Barrow’s and 77% of National revenues went to pay for government. Given these numbers, no wonder we are poor and will remain so. These numbers suggest educated Gambians, particularly those in charge at the government think the purpose of tax paying is to pay for their lifestyle. If Gambia is a private equity by now is closed, drastically changed and/or divest to turn-around venture capitalist. With this, do not expect uninterrupted electricity or clean/treated water or roads or schools, hospitals, etc. any time soon.

Observed the huge difference between numbers of 2017, 2018 and 2019. Wage increases may explain some of the upward increases but not from D2.68 to D7.51b. What would bring the same costs center down to D4.1b in 2019? What would conceivably account for recurring costs increase from D2.8b in 2018 to D12.58b in 2091. These are erroneous for whatever reason – in the real-world Gambia government did not shrink and/or expand exponentially year to year to allow such large swings.

NATIONAL DEBT AND DEBT INTEREST: Gambia has National Debt Portfolio of about D75b. This is about 130% of GDP (size of our economy). The debt per capita (debt per person) is about D37,500. That means a death Gambian leavesbehind an unpaid debt of D37,500 and one born picks up a debt obligation of that sum right away. The comparison of national debt to GDP is simply a demonstration of its size. GDP doesn’t directly pay-off debt although increases in GDP is potentially more tax revenue hence increased ability to service the debt. National revenues/incomes go to pay-off/service debt. Our debt is 7/8 times larger than our annual revenues/incomes – go figure. The structure of the national debt is roughly 3:2. That is 60% of our debt is owed to Gambians (internally) while 40% owed tooutside creditors. That has serious economic consequences in the events of default in repayments. The principal of national debt will not (do not) mature at once or even in short-term but interest become due almost always annually. The debtor nation such ours is expected to service such due interests on time.

The table below presents the reported interests due on our debt per the specified years

Reported Interest Due on Our Debt (in billions)

Jawara/1994

Yahya/2017

Barrow/2018

Barrow/2019

Debt Interest Servicing

0.13

3.7

4.0

2.7

Total

0.13

3.7

4.0

2.7

Debt interest as a percentage of National/Domestic Revenues: 1994 – 19%, 2017 – 43%,2018 –  42% and 2019 – 21%. We canneither keep up payment of such high percentages while meeting vitals to living of our people nor default. Timely payment of due-interests are not only economic consequences but as well a legal liability. Again, the great swing in the numbers from 1 year to another tells that somethings is not right. Notice debt interest dropped almost by 1/3 from 2018 to 2019 – is possible but not likely.

BUDGET DEFICITS: National Revenue (-/minus) Costs of Government (-/minus) Debt Interest Servicing (-/minus)Programs = ± Cash Balance. For Gambia and for the 4 years under review after deducing costs of government and debt interest and before any programs are considered, we always ran out of money. We go into negative cash balance. Such negative balances either before or after programs are called budget deficits. The graph below is a visual depiction of that fact. TheBLUE BARS represent domestic revenue (taxes + non-taxes)and ORANGE BARS (costs of government + debt interest) from 1990 to 2018. The graph did not show 2019 because I did this sometimes last year.

Budget deficits are either finance through loans and/or grants in the case of Gambia. Any such deficit finance through loans and outstanding at the end of calendar/budget year makes up the National Debt. National debt is simply the aggregate of all outstanding debts on record/file.

In this situation procurement of programs such as roads, schools, health care, environment/waste management, etc. would require contracting additional loan(s) and/or begging. The intent to beg and/or contract some loans doesn’t necessarily guarantee securing acquisition. Creditors are not excited to loan to Gambia due very low creditworthiness. On the other hand, there are no limitless pool of free-gifts/grants. These probably explains why since we are kids (maybe late Badara Njie was Finance Minister) to date, every budget we proposed construction of Lamin-Koto Passamance Road (from Lamin-Koto to Sami Tenda Bridge). Is still incomplete – less than 30-mile road length. Words are cheap! Say i(we) will do something is different from doing it especially if you’re relying on someone to pawn up the cash.

The current financial standing of Gambia is unsustainable. This is making us poorer every passing year. Worst yet they don’t seem to know it and most certainly have no plan 9or even intent) to fix it. Had they known and care, Barrow and Ousainou would not have put us on this path after 22 years of struggle with tears, blood, sweat and fortune.  

Now the question is how can we stop and turn-around?

The basic answers:

i) First is to recognize we have a problem that require sacrifices and concerted efforts
ii) Appropriately manage the little we’re collecting
iii) Increase revenue/income
iv) Reduce costs
v) Adapt ever changing technological development

These solutions are much more complex than simply phrases. It would require both structural changes and attitudinal reorientation. Furthermore, we have to have good laws and be firm on enforcements.  

 

The current government infrastructure is an imperial apparatus(left behind by colonial Britain) we masquerade with nice democratic names. It’s not working and no amount of twigging will make it work. The 3 co-equal branches of a democratic government exist only in name. Instead of government accountable to the people, we are accountable to the government.

Thomas Jefferson states it eloquently – “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny”

People in government are incapable of fixing these issues because changing the status quo do not serve their personal interests. At some point we the people will have to up-end establishments to let brief chaos ensue to give birth to new working-class that fear the people. Holistic revamping of obsolete structures, processes and procedures calls for people-centered decentralized democratic governance arrangement.  

 

Simply increasing revenues by raising taxes (or expanding taxable) may be counterproductive if not done within established economic rules/principles. Taking more from the productive sector for governmental redistribution usually depressed productivity hence impoverished. Giving more public resources to bad/undemocratic government may only further their bad behaviors rather than improve quality of life of the tax paying population.  

 

Reducing costs of government is a must for Gambia if we are to provide our people with vitals of living in a modern nation-state. Grounding one vehicle or laying off few teachers and/or close one out-post/department would not do the job. 

 

Finally, we have to make relevant use of ever change technology – both for efficiency and cost reduction. 

 

The bottom-line – monies of The Gambia are produced by people of The Gambia for the acquisition of their common welfare needs/wants and not for those working in the government. 

For The Gambia Ever True

Burama FL Jammeh

Economist/Financial Analyst

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