By: Momodou Sabally
I have advised this government over the past 4 years on the matter of fiscal prudence and they never took heed. Now that their own greed and fiscal misadventures have caught up with them, they want the public to pay the price for the government’s negligence with some urgent austerity measures as well as hikes in the tax rate hidden in fuel prices and other charges imposed on the unwitting populace.
In several open letters addressed to the Finance Minister, I did caution them. In the first of a long series I questioned the wisdom of their Proposed Salary Increase:
“Honourable Minister, can you tell us where and when will you get the quantum of resources necessary to fund and sustain a 50% surge in the wage bill? In a budget where 3 quarters of the domestic resources are tied to the wage bill and debt service, how do you increase salaries by 50 and still transform your social infrastructure? What about the potential inflationary impact of the quantum leap in pay?” This was widely published in December 2018.
A couple of articles followed including On the Audacity of Fiscal Profligacy.
When they gave a deaf ear to all these, I came up with my prophecy titled On the Consequences of Fiscal Profligacy saying “Our fiscal spacecraft is flying on some turbulent path and Gambians must brace up for a bumpy ride in our macroeconomic trajectory for the rest of this year and beyond.” Published, August 28, 2019.
They never took heed, but now they have suddenly realized that economics is a science and no amount of voodoo would ameliorate the self-inflicted damage they have caused. Talk of the old saying “the road of I don’t care leads you to the city of had I known.”
Prudent fiscal policy could have averted the current macroeconomic meltdown we are going through with the poor taxpayers bearing the brunt of it, as prices of basic commodities skyrocket and the cost of transportation, with its pervasive inflationary effect, surge through the roof.
All of a sudden the Barrow Administration wants to take remedial action through measures conveyed in a government memo titled “Cost Control Circular”. Would that they knew the meaning of the Mandingka proverb “neesi kantalaa yeh meng see; aka wo leh bori” (the amount of time herdsman wastes sitting idly, is the same duration he would have to make up for, running after the herd)
Sadly, it is quite evident, for the trained eye, that even this proposed cost-cutting initiative is cosmetic and half-hearted. Certainly, telecoms, travel, and fuel costs do not constitute the biggest share of government expenditure. There are more important cost centers left out such as procurement of major goods and services which happens to be one of the biggest loopholes in government expenditure, prone to abuse. perhaps this move is made to appease their feared watchdog, the IMF.
What is laughable about the cost control circular is how this mafia system has announced that they are suspending training for government officials and strictly limiting travel for the up and coming young professionals but maintains free range for travel affecting the top guns with bigger travel expenditure profiles like the Foreign and Finance Ministers. In their own words “Overseas travel for training, meetings, conferences, seminars, workshops, are all hereby suspended except for statutory meetings of the UN, ECOWAS, AU, World Bank, IMF, AfDB…”
This kleptocratic entity called the Barrow Administration has once again vindicated me by confirming one of my earliest labels on them #AnimalFarm: all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.
What their memo is saying in plain terms is that the young professionals in government will be banned from traveling to go and upgrade their capacity for better performance but Dr. Tangara, Mambury Njie, and co can travel at free will to attend so-called statutory meetings of the UN, IMF/World Bank and related institutions where their participation will be minimal and impact for the country zero. But they will collect huge travel allowances to go on shopping sprees. This is really sad and unconscionable for a public service teeming with young brilliant minds that are poorly remunerated with few opportunities for professional growth. How then do we expect our government to be staffed with smart, honest, and competent professionals?
And by the way, did you notice that the most wasteful spending unit of this bloated kakistocracy, the Office of the President, has been spared in this austerity move?
The most ridiculous part of the government’s memo on cost control is that it has clearly identified what this government thinks is the cause of our current economic malaise? This is what they said; in their own words as published on the official State House website “The circular states the causal factors for the economic challenges as the COVID 19 pandemic and the Ukraine war. The effects have manifested in a reduction in economic activity, revenue generation, and the surge in the price of fuel and other commodities.”
If that is the case, then why is this same government setting up a task force to diagnose the malady affecting the economy when they are already telling us that they know the cause. Well, some friends of the Finance Minister need to be better positioned in the system for recognition; and/or, they need government money as allowances for their Koriteh feast expenditure; hence, the unsuspecting bus driver is beguiled once more. What a sad situation!
The problem of this country, being #barrowflation, characterized by hyperinflation, corruption, and myriad maladies, needs an urgent remedy. Our President has outlined his medicine but it is half-hearted and disingenuous.
No matter how qualified a doctor is, he must submit himself to another doctor to cure him. Therefore President Barrow cannot cure us of Barrowflation. This is why we need effective checks and balances in our system. A well-informed and independent National Assembly would do us a lot of good. We pray that the new set of people’s representatives performs effectively, especially in the area of fiscal oversight.
God bless The Gambia.
Former Research Economist and National Budget Director, Momodou Sabally has undergone extensive professional training in macroeconomics and public financial management at the IMF Institute, the Central Bank of England’s Center for Central Banking Studies, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and holds a masters degree in Economics from Georgia State University in the US.