Gambia’s National Assembly meeting in budget session in Banjul Thursday rejected a supplementary appropriation bill presented by the Finance minister, Mambury Njie.Sources told APA that after a heated debate, Assembly members rejected the bill asserting that its timing violates the country’s constitution; also that the D1.12 billion requested by the minister, to be raised from “domestic borrowing”, is more than what is allowed by the constitution.
The Finance minister in his statement presenting the bill said his request for supplementary appropriation is based on the Public Finance Act, 2014. He spoke of “some unavoidable macro-fiscal challenges in the course of implementation of the 2018 budget”.
“The government of The Gambia had to respond to the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease, the demands from the teachers and nurses, shortage of medicine at the hospitals and rising fuel prices, which resulted to expansionary fiscal pressures and warranting accommodation for unplanned expenditure ln the course of 2018 fiscal year.”
Specifically, he mentioned the increase in “basic car and transport allowances”; the setting up of new agencies such as “the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Commission of Enquiry into the financial dealings of the former President, the Constitutional Review Commission, the Faraba Banta Commission and the SSHFC Panel of investigators, which had no budgetary provisions or were seriously under budgeted and warranted the pre-financing of their activities through virements from other existing line items”.
According to the Finance minister, “it is also worthwhile to note that some of these shortfalls were as a result of additional demands from the National Assembly”.
The Finance minister also mentioned “contributions to international organisations”. “The re-admission of the Gambia back to the fold of the International community has corresponding financial obligations, in particular arrears settlement, to enable The Gambia to participate fully and play its role in the global community of trade, investment and aid agenda”.
Also developments in the area of “foreign policy” require “the maintenance expenditure towards foreign missions has increased due to the opening and maintenance of foreign missions, including the deployment of staff. These lead to expenditure commitments in the movement of staff, other related operational activities and the depreciation of the dalasi against major foreign currencies.”
Then there is the “tranfers and subsidies”. “The Government of the Gambia provides for electricity, water, farm inputs and agricultural commodities through subsidies and transfers to support the operations of some state-owned enterprises, in particular the Gambia National Food Processing and Marketing Corporation (former GGC) and NAWEC (the national water and electricity company)”.
#OCCUPYNATIONALASSEMBLY activists Thursday protested at the gates of the National Assembly in Banjul and urged Gambian lawmakers not to approve the bill, first tabled on Tuesday 11th December, when deputies called for more time to scrutinize the bill.
Activists have been expressing their disapproval of the bill, which they described as “unconstitutional”, and their unhappiness with some contents of the government’s Estimates presented earlier to the Assembly, related to the proposed national budget for 2019 fiscal year.
Organisers of the protest want the country’s lawmakers to be given more time to scrutinize the proposed 2019 budget.
“We are here to protest against the supplementary appropriation bill and the 2019 budget. The supplementary appropriation bill tabled by the Finance minister is unconstitutional because such a bill must not be more than 1% of the budget, and here we are seeing D1.12 billion being tabled just three weeks before the end of 2018 fiscal year. This to us is unacceptable,” said Rafik Diab a member of #OCCUPYNATIONALASSEMBLY.
Diab is a rights activist who co-founded the #GambiaHasDecided and the #Defadoye movements in Gambia.
According to Diab, such supplementary appropriation bill must be presented to the Assembly four months before the end of fiscal year, and must not be more than 1% of the total budget. The Finance minister’s bill does not meet the requirements of the constitution and should, therefore, not be entertained by deputies, he added.
The 2019 Budget Estimates have also being rushed through the Assembly, and members were only given 14 days to scrutinise the bill, and that this constitutional time-frame is too short for members to do their job correctly.
“Deputies are only given 14 days to scrutinize the 2019 proposed Budget. This is not possible! Members cannot scrutinized such an important national document in just 14 days; so we are calling on the state to give more time to the members of the National Assembly to be able do their job adequately and thoroughly scrutinizing this very important bill before it is passed,” he declared.
Tony F. Mendy, a law student at the University of The Gambia and one of the organisers, expressed disappointment that the police would not let the protesters enter the National Assembly premises.
“We are only here as citizens to protest against the supplementary appropriation bill and the 2019 proposed budget, but the police are blocking us and stopping our entry into the Parliament.”
Alieu Ceesay, another UTG law student, said “the timing of this supplementary appropriation bill is very wrong and we cannot give chance to our lawmakers to pass such a bill. This is why we are here to express our anger to parliamentarians so that they can understand our plight, and take it into consideration before they do anything that will backfire on the citizens when such a bill is approved by the members”.
However, as protesters voiced their grievances outside Parliament, barely a few hours into their debate members of the National Assembly rejected the bill presented by Finance minister Njie.