On the Audacity of Fiscal Profligacy: Letter to the Minister of Finance (Part 4)
Honourable Minister and senior brother, it is with a deep sense of sorrow and extreme disappointment that I write you another letter on this dismal subject.
It is not my desire to indulge in such subjects due to the multitudinous responsibilities on my shoulders at this critical juncture in our nation building process. But your obstinacy in consistently going rogue with our macroeconomic management framework keeps me awake and I cannot sleep if I do not ring yet another alarm bell regarding your fiscal malfeasance which has a direct link to the livelihoods of ordinary Gambians.
In one of my first letters addressed to you I warned you about the consequences of a fiscal binge when you took the boneheaded decision of raising salaries for civil servants by 50 percent without coming up with any viable means of funding this upsurge in government expenditure. You never needed my advice and part of the consequences of that outrageous move was a callous increase in taxes that led to the shutting down of one of the oldest companies in this country, Banjul Breweries. Hundreds of jobs were lost and this led to the further transformation of our country into a warehouse for the industrial sector of our neighbour, Senegal.
Inflation is still rising in this country and it is obvious that your mishandling of our national budget execution is a key factor causing an uptick in the prices of basic commodities.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic; and while all nations embarked on responsible fiscal measures to support their ailing economies, you went on with your trademark irresponsible behavior, announcing a D500 million expenditure adventure without explaining the source of funding for this. What followed was damning revelations about corrupt procurement practices using these funds and then to the shock and consternation of the National Assembly and the entire nation, you shamelessly told us that you embarked upon an expedition of butchering our national budget without any authority from our lawmakers who gave you the mandate to spend our tax money.
Your sense of condescension towards our National Assembly was quite evident when you looked them in the face and told them that you did not do anything wrong even after Honourable Sidia Jatta told you that you “butchered” our national budget. Yet one should not be surprised that you have the temerity to come again to our National Assembly with a supplementary appropriating bill that is nothing but mockery to the tax payers. A bill of more than D2.5 billion extra spending for what?
You surely know your game well Honourbale Minister. Why won’t you come with such a ridiculous request for supplementary Appropriation when the National Assembly let you go scot free without even a minor censure after you butchered our budget, and had the temerity to stare at them and tell them in your classic ‘ndongo style’: ‘maa tei!’
What you are telling our NAMs in simple Mandinka is ‘a diyaa ta nteh leh yeh!’ And surely the Mandinka proverb is right ‘farboe yeh e jeh nyaameng, a kay baara woleh nyaama!’
But I can assure you, Honourable Minister, that the Gambian tax payers will be duly informed about all your criminal activities regarding our nation’s finances as I will soon embark on a tour of all community radios to inform them about your fiscal malfeasance. You may not personally pay the price directly, but the man who handed you the keys to our national treasury will surely pay for this come 2021, Inshaa Allah.
Honourable Minister, so you want A multi-billion Dalasi budget approved as supplementary appropriation mainly targeted to benefit the high income group and your partners in the egregious crime of looting the state coffers in a civilized manner? Your government still cannot conclude the distribution of COVID related food aid that was done half heartedly and haphazardly. You should have presented a report about the implementation of the distribution of the initial consignment of food supply but instead of that you are ready to present a new set of numbers to purchase food.
The emphasis of any new request for COVID related support should have focused on cash support for the poor and vulnerable, farmers, market women and unpaid private school teachers. But no, you want money to give out to a private sector that actually has surplus cash as evidenced by their donation of cash through The Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry ostensibly to help Gambians to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile your average per capita expenditure on COVID related food aid for the minority of Gambians who have benefited so far stands at less than 500 Dalasis in sharp contrast to the 28 thousand Dalasis per person (on quarantine) that you are spending on European visitors coming to Gambia for leisure.
Where is the much-needed pro-poor expenditure in this bill? Certainly the millions budgeted for consultancy expenditure is lined up for your friends and relatives and therefore I would urge our NAMs to draw a red line across that amount right away. We have a gigantic salary bill for our civil servants and we know that they are punching way below their weight in terms of service delivery, so let them do the job and save us some cash.
You can fool the uninformed casual observers but for those of us well acquainted with the wheeling and dealing in the corridors of power, we know that the supplementary appropriation bill you submitted is full of pork. The key beneficiaries of this extra spending you are requesting include the insidious triumvirate that features you as leading striker, the Works Minister as ace midfielder and the Lands Minister as last defender.
The extra D500 million identified for rural roads is is potentially targeted compensation for construction firms like the ones owned by the Works Minister’s friends and relatives and the Lands Minister’s nephew. Therefore, to label your government “Animal Farm” is certainly an understatement.
Being the smooth operator and manipulative genius that you have ways been, you would not conclude your supplementary appropriation numbers without including an element of emotional blackmail. The D15 million budget line for the construction of a mausoleum for late President Jawara is a nonstarter as far as I am concerned. We love our late founding President and we shall honour him and continue to pray for him but spending millions on his resting ground would be unconscionable, knowing very well that we have school children in prominent rural settlements like Farafenni without proper furniture and sanitary facilities. Adding a Presidential library to that proposed mausoleum would not cut it either because the nearby National Library cannot boast of a dozen proper modern books for our students to read.
Why in the world do you want to erect another white elephant in the shadow of our over-prize National Assembly Building? The letter and spirit of supplementary appropriation bills should demand a budget line to cater for remedies for possible floods and damage of properties of the poor and vulnerable during a year when we have been forewarned of above normal rainfall with the inevitable usual consequences of such scenarios. But secure and comfortable in your Brusubi mansions, you cannot empathise with the people of Ebo Town and Talinding Farokono.
Honourable Minister, the proper thing for you to do is to resign; but knowing your background and intentions, that would be too much to ask. Therefore we reserve your recompense for the man who appointed you to the office you are clearly mishandling. The appointment for his reward is set for 2021, and no amount of dilly-dallying can change that date by the grace of God.
May Allah guide you and protect whatever is left of sound nature in our macroeconomic framework in these trying times.
Former research economist and National Budget Director, Momodou Sabally has undergone extensive professional training in macroeconomics and public financial management at the IMF Institute, the Central Bank of England’s Center for Central Banking Studies, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and holds a masters degree in Economics from Georgia State University in the US.