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Opinion: Gambia Needs To Embrace Zero-Based Budgeting

Folks, remember that Gambia had always had "incremental budgeting system" which increases the budget lines by a percentage increment. This type of budgeting is not good for our country because it hide a lot of inefficiency.

It propagates corruption by assuming that the previous years of unaudited budgets were correct and represented the true level of expenditure and income. In most cases previous budgets are fraught with significant level of "inflated figures", discretionary cost and more importantly, a mammoth level of waste.

I remember when Jimmy Carter came to power 1977 after a period of economic turbulence under Gerald Ford, he consigned a budgetary review to evaluate the current budget, identify inefficiencies and recommend the best system of budgeting. They identified that "incremental budgetary system" mask a high level of waste and budgetary inefficiency and to cull all those waste require proper budgetary re-orientation that assumes each budgetary line is not the real budgetary allotment.

This discovery is purely rational and is one of the greatest weakness of incremental budgeting. Governments used it because it is easy, it assumes that previous budgetary allocations are realistic and ignores the possibility that officials may have inflated past budgets for corrupt reasons. They recommended "zero based" budgeting which start the budgetary lines from zero.

Present year's expenditure is taken to be zero and a strict system of monitoring and budgetary control is put in place. The departments procure wthat is necessary, stop all frivolous and extravagant expenditures which are designed to enrich certain powerful officials. Everyone involved in the Finance sections in any ministry, know about the many schemes or shenanigans designed to extract more money from the state with intention of self-enrichment. They do so by offering contracts that are not transparently allocated therefore does not represent value for money acquisition.

When the year is completed, the budget is reviewed and forensically scrutinised to weed out non-bonafide expenditures called "budgetary laspse". Thereafter the current budget is used as "base" from which future budgets are produced. The zero based budget is the real budget, it is the representative expenditure which does not hide waste. Subsequent budgets are adjusted for inflation based on the price index or when new expenditures become necessary. Looking at the Gambianh 2020 budget according to what Hon Jawara presented in his posting on Facebook. This budget is one of the most inefficient and regressive budget ever presented in the history of the Gambia.

A budget that allocate resources base on the politics of the president not according to a strategic paradigm. The most important sectors of the economy is the most underfunded and the office of the present take mammoth share of government recurrent expenditure. Why, once again, ministry of health, education and agriculture show virtually insignificant budgetary increases while office of the president show an increase of D31m which is enough to but x-ray machine for all the hospitals in the Gambia.

Will you call a government progressive that allocates D394m to agriculture, D1.4bn to health but D1.7bn to security services and D14bn to the office of the president. Folks we have an insane minister of Finance. How can he sell to or justify such orgy of extravaganza to donors agencies or donor countries. The assertion that agriculture is the backbone of the economy is just a lip-service and meaningless since their no budgetary commitment and no wonder farmers cannot sell their groundnuts.

I think there need a serious audit of presidential expenditure to ascertain whether this hefty budget allocation is bona fide. To me, the figures are suspect. The irony is, the income projection is based on grants of D8.1bn and borrowing of 5.9bn and they got the guts to give us assurance that this projection is realistic. Going by what happened last years, it is highly probable that this projection is not feasible. Our country is already "over-geared" in corporate terms, means, its debt is more that its assets therefore investors will be reluctant to invest. So who will give us loan knowing very well we are already OVER burden with debt.

The projected debt servicing according to Mr Jawara's figures are 9.6bn that represents 37.5% of total income, tell me how can a nation progress that has to spend more of its budget to service loans than it spends on key sectors of the economy encompassing, health, education, agriculture and communication. This is an alarming situation and I think the opposition need to start taking the government to task.

A good budget is realistic and forward looking. It allocate resources in the most efficient way because it map out development paradigm which mirror the nature of its economy and its aspirations. Gambia need to overhaul key sectors to prosper. Education, agriculture, health, communication, water and electricity are key areas and thus should be allocated commensurate share of the meagre resources. Gambia is endowed with two great competitive advantages which we should have exploited to the maximum. One is the highly navigable river that run the entire length of the country with a good length of fresh water. With such a resource of fresh water, Gambia should never be an importer of basic commodities like rice, sugar and garden vegetables like tomato and onions. Second is solar power. Our country could incentivise solar investment into the country. It need to attract nordic and German companies to invest in our solar systems with very good tax breaks and other inducements. The emphasis should be transfer of technology and skill training which will make maintenance cost affordable.

In conclusion I must say, we need to be real stewards of national development, understand that only ourselves can develope our country. A reinvigorated sense of responsibility and commitment in not only expected of the politicians but more so for the technocrats who manage the ministries. Since independence, the technocrats are the key constituency that failed the country. They are more interested in personal development, official cars, overseas travel with hefty per-diems, nice houses, endless and meaningless workshops.

Once a good and responsible leadership exist, I believe all the ingredients of development with fall in place and it should start with budgetary system reform. The present incremental budgetary system is an old patchwork of hidden waste that failed to inspire change for the many.

Lamin Darboe Leicester, UK.


Editors note: Views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Gunjur Online. Got an opinion article? send it to us at GunjurNewsOnline@gmail.com



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