Sidia Jatta vs Mambury Njie – Virement (Legitimacy vs Legality)
Dear editor Mbaye (Freedom) and editor Njie (The Point), I must thank you for publishing all the articles I have sent to you so far. For some reason, your sister news outlets (Foroyaa, Standard and TFN) do not publish any articles I send them, and I expect as a bare minimum to get feedback from them as to why my articles have not been published. That is my expectation of fair and balanced reporting however critical my articles may be. Note that I used the publicised email addresses on their websites and received no delivery failure notifications.
The advent of Covid-19 has brought to the forefront the weaknesses and lapses in the system of governance in the Gambia, vindicating the right honourable Halifa Sallah who said that there has been a regime change but not a system change in the Gambia. I have watched the proceedings of the National Assembly with bewilderment seeing incompetence and total disregard for international best practice being demonstrated by the Finance Minister and his Accountant General.
By international best practice, I will give an example here. I used to work for Lloyds Banking Group (one of the biggest banks in the world) in the UK as Assistant Manager Planning, Forecasting and Analysis (FP&A) – Retail Banking. My team was responsible for preparing the budget, 5-year plan and 25-year strategic plan. One of my responsibilities was to prepare the monthly variance analysis looking at Actual vs Plan. When there is a situation where there is need to amend the plan, this is channelled through the senior leadership team(SLT), who is the approving authority. We don’t just sit in the Business Planning team and do virement. This is international best practice; this is what I believe the National Assembly expects.
The right honourable Sidia Jatta wasted no time in pointing out that the finance minister was in contempt of the august body and has acted illegally by re-appropriating the funds without authorisation from the National Assembly. In his view this is fraud. I must admit, I admire the courage and dedication to duty of honourable Jatta, YaKumba, Tuma and the rest. These are the types of parliamentarians the Gambia yearned for. I agree with honourable Jatta that this is fraud and before anyone jumps on my throat, fraud is defined by Durham Constabulary as “Criminal deception committed by a person who acts in a false and deceitful way”. Mambury and his Accountant General’s actions were not only criminal but were deceitful as well.
The issue of virement has generated heated debates in and outside the Gambia with proponents of the practice arguing that it is perfectly legal. What these people fail to understand is that the Finance Act is at odds with the supreme law of the land (the Constitution) and that any act, law or anything,which is at odds with the constitution is null and void. In the first instance, honourable Jatta told the finance minister in no uncertain terms to desist from further virements after the first D500m was done. He was also advised to seek advice from the Justice Minister before doing anything. To mine and the assembly’s disgust, he went and did virement again on the D700m. Now if this is not contemptuous and illegal, I do not know what is.
What beats my imagination is how some people will refer to Mamburay Njie as a true son of the Gambia when he breaks the Gambian laws, not once, not twice. Just because you did it when you worked for the ministry of Finance does not make it legal. Don’t get me wrong, virement is legitimate if due process is followed but becomes illegal in our Gambian context if due process isn’t followed.
Earlier this week, I read a very interesting article on Freedom newspaper that made reference to Saxena & Ylaoutina (2016), where the author indicated that virement does not require legislative authorisation. I tried to follow the link in the article just to validate its veracity, but it says the page does not exist. I will leave it to that but what I want to tell the author is that in our Gambian context, the law is very clear. The budget is built on budget lines and there is a reason for that for every budget line must be accounted for to the National Assembly, hence why authority must be sought if a line item needs to be re-appropriated.
Common sense should have dictated to the Finance Minister and his Accountant General (if they have any) that if there is no legal need for line items in the budget, the National Assembly would just approve the D21bn or so and ask him to spend it anyhow he deems it fit. I am not sure what qualifications the Accountant General has but if he is ACCA, he needs to book some more time on his CPDs for his behaviour in the Assembly was shameful.
To the National Assembly, I say stay focussed, and keep your eyes on the ball; being the eyes and ears of the citizens of the Gambia. You are doing a very difficult job, holding people accountable who for the past two decades or more have had a lazare faire attitude to work and resource management. Well done to you all.
About the author:
Nuha Ceesay FCCA, MSc (Merit), PhD Student – Leeds United Kingdom
I hail from Kiang Kwinella, attended Kwinella Primary School, Muslim High School, Rural Development Institute and Management Development Institute. I worked for the Gambia Cooperative Union, Child Fund International (CCF), Gambia Civil Aviation Authority and Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC).
In the UK, I attended London College of Accountancy, FTC Kaplan and Leeds Beckett University, becoming a Fellow,Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (FCCA), attaining MSc (Merit) in Accounting and currently studying part time towards a PhD degree in Finance and Accounting (Researching Governance & Integrated Reporting).
I worked for Halifax Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, Skipton Building Society, Premier Farnell Plc (Element 14), Morrisons Plc and currently working as the Finance Systems Specialist for London North Eastern Railway.
To Foroyaa, Standard and FTN, if you want me to get your correct email address, please email me at [email protected] or at the least put your correct email addresses on your websites.