By Madi Jobarteh
At this moment there is no copy of the approved 2018 national budget book publicly available in the Gambia. Copies of the book are not available at the Ministry of Finance nor are they available at the national printing company not to mention bookshops and supermarkets around the country. The budget book is not also available on any ministry’s website and not even on the State House website. There are also no copies available at the national library in Banjul for reference purposes.
The budget book is a public document containing very critical public information that should be readily available and easily accessible to each and every citizen at all times. Even if the book is for sale, a Gambian in Banjul or Boraba or Basse must have easy access to the document without any major difficulty. This is because the budget book is the tool that citizens, communities, researchers, private sector firms, civil society organizations and other stakeholders need in order to follow how public money is spent.
Public financial management is not the responsibility of the Executive and the National Assembly alone. Citizens also have a key role in ensuring that there is transparent, accountable and functional public financial management system in place. One of the measures to ensure public financial management is to allow public scrutiny over national budgets and to financial records of the government. It is for this reason that government budget estimates and approved budgets as well as audited accounts should be adequately available and accessible to citizens at all times.
The budget is the second most supreme and important law after the Constitution. It is the budget that provides the resources for the enforcement of the Constitution and other laws of the Gambia. In other words it is the budget that determines the priorities of the Government and identifies which goods and services that Gambian citizens will enjoy or not enjoy.
It is the budget that determines if our rights will be well protected and our needs well fulfilled or not. What is not in the budget will not be delivered by the government. Hence to ensure that the government delivers its mandate, it is necessary that citizens see, know and have the information about what amount of money is available to the Government in order to track the use of that money.
Unfortunately the budget book is not available publicly because the Ministry has not produced enough copies. Therefore how can citizens track the budget to ensure that every butut is well spent as allocated in the budget? How can citizens ensure that they receive their right entitlements if they do not know what are catered for in the budget? How can we combat corruption and waste of public resources if we do not know what is in the budget?
For citizens to be able to access the budget is a matter of good governance and national development. Accessing the budget generates active participation of citizens in determining the way and manner public resources are spent. When citizens participate in this process it only improves transparency and accountability of the Government to the people.
But when citizens do not have access to the budget then they would not know their entitlements and the obligations of the Government to deliver those entitlements. It means citizens will not know the extent and nature of public resources and how those resources are used. It means citizens will not be able to determine if they are indeed getting value for money from the Government or not. It means citizens cannot determine if their rights and needs are effectively fulfilled or not. It means citizens cannot tell if public resources are well spent or wasted or stolen. Therefore public access to the national budget is fundamental in the good governance and sustainable development of this country.
Therefore let us all demand that the National Assembly cause the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs to print hundreds of thousands of the budget book to be placed around the country so that Gambians can easily access the document. The budget book should be pasted on the website of the Office of the President as well as the websites of all ministries. This should be the practice if we are going to ensure a transparent, accountable and responsive Government.
For the Gambia, Our Homeland.