Members of Parliament last Friday (2 November) approved the 2019 Appropriation Budget, estimated at the tune of Le7.3 trillion, thus authorising public expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
At the end of each year, the Minister of Finance presents for approval the budget bill to the legislature for debate and scrutiny before it becomes law.
In his presentation last Friday in the Well of Parliament, Minister of Finance Jacob Jusu Saffa said the projected budgetary resource for the 2019 Financial Year is Le7.3 trillion, which represents resources that will be processed through the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
He said the total budget for 2019 comprises domestic revenue of Le5.66 trillion, budget support of Le409 billion, and domestic financing of Le958.3 billion.
However, the Appropriation Bill presented to lawmakers indicated Le6.94 trillion, excluding repayment of arrears of Le90 billion which had been approved in the previous year's Appropriation Acts.
Saffa stated that the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) government inherited a challenging economic situation characterised by weak economic growth and high budget deficits underpinned by excessive expenditures amidst poor revenue performance.
"Government expenditures, including the payment of salaries of civil servants, were financed through Ways and Means advances from the Bank of Sierra Leone. While payments for goods and services and infrastructural projects were financed largely by borrowing from commercial banks at high interest rates," he told the 146 lawmakers.
He said the implementation of structural reforms also weakened in recent years, resulting in the deterioration of the country's ranking in the World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) from a medium to weak performer with adverse implications for the amount of concessional resources allocated to Sierra Leone.
The Finance Minister, who was reading the first full budget since the New Direction administration was ushered into office in April, emphasised that the situation was compounded by the inability of the previous government to take corrective measures, which led to the derailment of the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which consequences led to most development partners withholding budget support to Sierra Leone from 2017 to date.
"These developments culminated in a sharp increase in domestic debt and related high debt service payments as well as the build-up of huge arrears owed to suppliers and contractors. The exposure of these suppliers and contractors to overdraft and loan facilities from the commercial banks as well as loans to politically exposed persons," he noted.
He stated, among other things, that the objective of the 2019 budget was set against the backdrop of the economic and social challenges facing the country and the need to pursue policies that can facilitate the attainment of sustainable and inclusive growth for job creation and poverty reduction.
The key objectives of the 2019 Government Budget, according to the minister, are to pursue fiscal consolidation to ensure fiscal and debt sustainability; accelerate investments in human capital in order to improve the wellbeing of current and future generations and improvement of the business environment through scaling up investments in infrastructure and the implementation of business friendly reforms to achieve economic diversification and creating jobs.
He further stated that the budget will also expand social protection programmes to mitigate the impact of the liberalisation of fuel prices to ensure inclusive growth and poverty reduction and to address vulnerabilities relating to natural disasters, climate change and environmental damage to strengthen the resilience of the economy.
The minister explained that Government will allocate Le1.14 trillion, representing 21 percent of the total budget to the education sector, in support of President Bio's flagship 'Free Quality Education' programme.
According to the him, the fund will support the school feeding programme, examination fees for NPSE, BECE and WASSCE candidates, provision of textbooks and teaching and learning materials for senior secondary schools as well as support for school monitoring and supervision.
"The allocation also includes the sum of Le631.6 billion for salaries to teachers. The sum of Le215.8 billion is provided for the strengthening of technical and higher education, including grants to tertiary education institutions, tuition fee subsidy for students of tertiary and technical institutions, payment for University admission application forms and seed money to set up the Student's Loan Scheme Trust Board," he explained.
In addition, the finance minister revealed that Le86.8 billion will be allocated to devolved functions in the education sector.
Mr. Saffa disclosed that the sum of Le56.4 billion has been allocated to domestic capital budget to complete the procurement of 50 school buses and counterpart funds for the rehabilitation of Fourah Bay College, Bunumbu Teachers College, Milton Margai College of Education and Technology, the Prince of Wales School, Government Secondary School Bo, Government Secondary School Kenema, and Government Secondary School for Boys Magburaka.
He further stated that the domestic capital budget also includes allocations of funds for the construction and refurbishment of Technical and Vocational Institutions, development of classrooms, laboratories in universities, Teacher Training Colleges and Vocational Training Centres.
He noted that the World Bank's US$20 million support and US$2 million domestic capital budget from government will be used to commence the implementation of a Skills Development Project for youths in 2019.