By: Kebba AF Touray
National Assembly Members have expressed their resolve on the need to prioritize the country’s social services and youth empowerment in the budget estimates, as they are key pillars in the development of the country. The honourable members made these and other assertions during yesterday’s debate on the 2018 budget estimate.
Hon. Ousman Sillah, member for Banjul North, called on the Finance Minister to prioritize health, agriculture and youth empowerment during budget estimation. He said Government should ensure the implementation of the Abuja Declaration, which advocates for 15% of the local Fund to be allocated to the health sector; that this is important considering the current conditions of the country’s health sector which is faced with serious challenges, key among them, inadequate medical staff, supplies and equipment among others. He cited that without these, the attainment of quality and accessible health care services will be mission impossible.
He called on Government to work towards the implementation of its commitment to the Maputu Declaration, where they are committed to allocate 10 percent of the national economy to agriculture to boost the sector, because it is the mainstay of the country’s economy. On youth empowerment, Hon. Sillah urged Government to invest more in the youth and create opportunities for them, to help curb irregular migration, unemployment and the crime rate. He called for the adjustment in the budget allocation to the Fisheries department, which he said has the potential of creating job for the youth, supplement the nutritional intake of the populace and boost the economy.
On celebrations, he pointed out that at this crucial moment of the country, there is no need for celebrations but to make savings.
Hon. Saikou Marong, Member for Latrikunda Sabiji, said the health sector is faced with daunting challenges that need urgent intervention; that this should be reflected in the estimates by allocating a befitting budget to the sector; that in 2013, the maternal and mortality rate was 33 per 10,000; neonatal mortality 21 per 1000; 34 per 1000 in infant mortality and in health delivery system the number of nurses is 3.2 nurses per 10,000. He called on the Finance Minister to prioritize the health sector during the budget allocation to make these and other scary scenarios facing the health sector a thing of the past.
On the Ministry of Youth and Sport, he urged that the sector be fully catered for because it is charged with improving the welfare of young people who are the future leaders and cream of the society. “This is a new Gambia and the ideas of a new Gambia must be reflected in the budget. The youth need to be catered for”, he said. He called on the Ministry of Trade to also prioritize youth in their action plans and provide job opportunities for them. On celebrations, Hon. Marong argued that the National Independence of the country is worth celebrating, but slams other celebrations saying ‘‘we don’t need them,” considering the terrible economy that the country has at the moment.
Hon. Bakary Camara, member for Central Badibou, lauded the Finance Minister for the additional D73 million estimate, to be allocated to the health sector; that this will go a long way in addressing the problems facing the health sector
He spoke of the need to address the problem of lack of skills and education in youth, without which the provision of youth employment will be a waste; that skills and education of youth are prerequisites in the effective implementation of the job.
The member for Sami Alfusainey Ceesay, said this government inherited bad governance but they are doing what they can to see that all sectors are considered; that the Gambian people are just eager to see rapid changes and said that Rome was not built in a day; thus the need for them to take things easy.
He commended Government for increasing the transport allowances for civil servants describing this as a great stride but raised concern over teachers in the provinces. According to him, teachers in the provinces are not entitled to transport allowance and therefore questioned the package Government has in place for them.
On Agriculture, Hon. Ceesay said people always concentrate on crop production and neglect animal husbandry which is also part of agriculture; that if crop production fails, they can sell their animals to gain income. He stressed the need for them to consider animal husbandry under agriculture.
On Youth and Sports, he said more needs to be allocated to this sector in order to build more skill centers which will help the youth to be engaged in something meaningful.
The member for Jimara, Alagie H. Sowe, frowned on the budget allocated for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, noting that it is too much and should be cut and transferred to the Ministry of Youth and Sport and Communications respectively.
Sainey Touray, National Assembly Member for Jarra East, said the office of the First Lady which is included in the draft estimates is not constitutional and should not be included in the budget; that as law makers they should be doing the right thing.
The member for Wuli West Sedia Jatta, told the finance Minister that they are going to deal with the document seriously and called on him to help them to get rid of the unnecessary estimates and put them where it is necessary; that many people are lying sick in this country and cannot be cured in the country because there is no money to take them somewhere else; that if a member of parliament has a serious accident, they rush him to India or if a minister falls sick, they rush him to the US. He described this as unfair, unsafe and incorrect. “But the time has come when this country must have a hospital where if you cannot be cured, you cannot be cured anywhere else. This is the country where you must do it and can do it,” he assured.
The Wuli West NAM said Gambia has been re-born and they belong to a new Gambia; that they are tired and everything must change. He described Agriculture, health and education as important towards the development of the country describing them as the economic drivers; that when they revised last year’s budget, it was indicated that it has a deficit of 4 billion as there was no budget support and because they were able to have budget support, it was bit down to D950million; that this year also when the budget estimates were being formulated, considerate amount was made of budget support and grant; that no nation including the Gambia, can ever develop with loans and grants; that The Gambia can develop itself with the resources available at its disposal without seeking for help outside. Hon. Jatta said The Gambia is moving towards the direction of becoming a model for the world; that The Gambia must primarily be dependent on itself for survival and anything else should be secondary. While thanking the Minister for the changes they did to the budget, he said they want to add their input so that together they can create a Gambian nation which will also be giving out to others as they cannot just be receiving without giving out, noting that this is how relationships work.
The Members for Kiang West, tumana, Upper Nuimi, Illiassa, Nianija and Nominated Member Kumba Jatta all added their voice to the debate.
NAMs called on the Minister to invest more in youth development for the betterment of the country. NAMS also frowned against the ‘many celebrations’ in the country excluding Independence Day, which they described as unnecessary expenditures and should be cut down.