The Budget Speech by Mr Amadou Sanneh at the Gambia National Assembly in Banjul is brilliant, comprehensive and one of the best budget speeches I have heard and listened to regarding Gambia in recent years. It was presented by a notable economist, a seasoned politician and a very humble man. I had the honour of meeting him last year at an International conference in Jeddah. In the thirty minutes we met, he never discussed his personal ordeals at the hands of the former regime. Rather, he spoke substantively of macroeconomic policies to move Gambia forward.
I listened to his maiden budget speech on Friday 15th December 2017 from A to Z and found in it profundity, substance and policy. He started the Speech by the fact that the New Gambia inherited a debt burden of D58.5 billion (over 120% of GDP). I am no economist, but common sense can dictate to us the seriousness of the above assertion. According to the Minister, the New Government has a gigantic task to undo the 22 years of economic mismanagement and replace that with sound and good economic governance and financial discipline. Indeed, it is not going to be an easy task to rectify the many years of fiscal indiscipline and financial impropriety. However, that needs prudence and calmness to put heads together for a better and prosperous Gambia regardless of political affiliations and ethnic backgrounds. Gambia needs people with ideas and talents to fix the years of damage and mess economically, politically, socially and educationally. The country needs an overhaul in all the sectors. The country faces acute managerial and administrative issues that require urgent attention. The new Head of Civil service is introducing positive reforms in the civil service. The highlights of the Budget Speech include the following:
- Despite the legacy of a great debt burden inherited from the previous regime, the Government of Gambia is bent on initiating a reform agenda economically and institutionally to create efficiency within the Government, stimulate the economy and attract investment by the business community
- Increasing transport allowance for the lower paid public employees
- Commissioning of research on aligning Gambian pensions policies with world standards to provide Gambians with decent pension scheme during retirement
Minister Sanneh pointed out that the energy sector will witness marked improvement in the coming months and years. On another note, he emphasises the Government efforts to secure a good deal with partners to start tapping into the natural resources of the Gambia in both the energy and mineral sectors.
It is indisputable that the broken economy inherited will not be easily fixed. It will require concerted and collective efforts of all the Gambians in Gambia and in the diaspora to cross-fertilise ideas in order to bring Gambia out of the mess it was put in for decades.
The Budget Speech is essentially a framework for economic stimulation, transformation and attraction of investors to Gambia. I am sure the Speech must have sent positive signals to global financial markets and created an assurance that the economy of Gambia is in safe hands and on the trajectory of recovery. We believe that this new economic transformation that Gambia is witnessing and the trajectory the Government is taking will change the livelihood of the ordinary Gambians and will enable them to provide their loved ones with basics necessities. I think it will soon be a right for every Gambian to have a decent education, a good standard of living and health insurance. These should be coupled with Government efforts to develop the infrastructure of Gambia both physical and human. It is not impossible to achieve the above if there is willingness to tap into the wealth of experience Gambians have intellectually, technically and above all the rich cultural heritage Gambia is endowed with. I have emphasised a lot on human infrastructure in my previous articles to underline the supremacy of human dignity, human freedom and human rights. It is easier to build the physical infrastructure than the human infrastructure.
Dr. Alhagi Manta Drammeh is an Associate Professor at Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education, Scotland, UK.