Members of the National Assembly yesterday during sittings approved the Draft Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure of the Government of the Gambia for the Fiscal Year 1st January to 31st December 2012 with amendments. NAMs after going through the draft budget estimates, described it as non controversial and thus endorsed it.
The Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Abdou Kolley said if they are to go by the presented budget, it would help them meet an important objective of reducing the net domestic borrowing of the government. "Currently, more than 20 per cent of government's resources go towards repayment of interests on loans in particular, domestic interest, this is why we have a target to gradually reduce our borrowing in terms of domestic borrowing to at least zero percent by 2015. This will create room for expansion in all sectors in particular priorities on education and health because all these resources that we are spending on interest, if we can use them on education and health. It will help us in meeting most of the MDGs targets and goals", he posited. He seeks the support of all sectors and his colleagues and departments so that they stick to the budget and ensure that they reduce their borrowing target. "It will also have an impact on the interest rate because people complain that interest rates are very high. One factor determining or driving the interest rates is domestic borrowing; noting that they can reduce their domestic borrowing significantly to bringing down interest rates", he said.
On the need to ensure free and compulsory basic education, Minister Colley noted that they are working with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary education and starting 2013, a provision has been made in the budget. He said the Ministry of Basic Education has a new line created called Grant to Basic Education and 14 million has been provisioned.
The Finance Minister explained that they will be coming up with a pilot project on Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) starting with the Ministry of Basic Education and the Finance Ministry. He said they have developed a MTEF consistent budget for these two ministries. He stated that they wanted to present it together with the draft budget estimates but due to few hitches they could not. He however said once it is finalized before the end of the year it would be an attachment to the main budget document. Based on the outcome of the project when implemented in 2013, they will extend it to other sectors.
However, the Finance Minister said the challenge is to implement an MTEF as all sectors must have strategic plan that are up to date and revived annually in order to reflect the changing circumstances. "And where that is not happening, it will be difficult to have an MTEF or a program base project; is a challenge that we have recognised and was debated during our cabinet retreat and we will work with sectors that do not have strategic plans to ensure that they have them before MTEF is going out to those sectors", he stated.
He stated that there is nowhere in the world where estimates of a budget is deemed totally adequate. "For every country at any given time you can never have adequate resources to meet all the demands that are expressed from the various sectors. So therefore, there is need for prioritization", he noted. The main challenge they have been facing over the years he said, is prioritization and fixing the demands within available resources, during implementation, sectors come back with things that were left out wanting to get them fit in the budget during implementation. He took the opportunity and call on his fellow colleague ministers and all sectors including the National Assembly; that once the budget is approved they should try and stick to it and not request for additional funds that were left out during the budget process except in the case of extreme emergency.