By Kebba Touray
In his contribution to the debate on the draft estimates on government revenue and expenditure for the 2019 financial year tabled before deputies by the minister of finance and economic affairs, Ousman Sillah, National Assembly Member (NAM) for Banjul North, said the workers in the lower grades deserve more salary increment to guarantee them a decent living wage and to reduce the income gap.
Mr. Sillah said he is not opposed to the 50% salary increment across the board per se but stressed that the workers from grades 1 to 10 and most especially those from 1 to 7 should receive more increment as their incomes are inadequate considering the high cost of living.
“Even if we are having salary increment across the board what about those in the bottom tier, grades I,2,3,4,5,6,?” asked the Banjul North NAM.
Mr. Sillah emphasised that those in the lower grades need salary increments many folds and not 50%. He suggested that grades 1, 2, 3 and 4 should be removed from the pay scale and for workers to start at grades 5 or 6.
“How can one subsist on D1, 395 which the grade one earns when a bag of quality rice costs D1, 600?” asked Mr. Sillah.
The Banjul North Parliamentarian cited the concluding remarks of the minister in his presentation of the draft estimates when he said that the 2019 budget seeks to “ensuring that scarce resources are strategically allocated towards areas that would have the most positive impact on economic growth and the welfare of citizens.” He, however, added that when one interrogates the draft budget one can see that it would be very difficult to achieve such objectives if it is implemented as the budget is not geared towards that direction.
He said the budget allocates more on recurrent expenditure such as personnel emoluments and travels than on development where investments are most needed.
He said government must try to invest in the productive sector such as agriculture, fisheries and industry to generate productivity and create employment.
“What stops the government from investing in the purchase of fishing trawlers to create employment for young people and women,” said Mr. Sillah.
He noted that Gambia is not exploiting her fish and fisheries resources to benefit the population in terms of employment creation for young people and women, trade, consumption or nutrition.
The Banjul North NAM said he welcomes the creation of the new ministry of Women, Children and Social Protection which is long overdue. He revealed that in fact he has even sent a parliamentary question for oral answer from the vice president some six months ago but which is yet to be on the order paper, adding that his question is asking whether the government is considering the creation of a new ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection. He, however, advised that since the National Assembly is being asked to allocate resources to this envisaged new ministry, the president should immediately proceed to give it legal effect by announcing its creation through the gazette and for the relevant personnel to be appointed, particularly the permanent secretary, who should be the accountant officer and custodian of such funds.
He enquired why should there be an increase for the travel vote for 2019 when the minister of finance and economic affairs recently announced a moratorium due to queries by NAMs in reaction to the high costs on this budgetary expenditure. He said it was expected that government was going to continue with this trend by reducing the vote on travel of government officials so that the money will be put in more useful and important areas such as health care, education, agriculture, youth employment, women empowerment, among others.
The Banjul North NAM said savings could be made if the allocations to the miscellaneous budget called ‘Centralised Services’ is slashed. He said no budget item should be shrouded in secrecy and that this is what Centralised Services is doing and which, he added, needs to be unpacked and reallocations made to other areas that provide social services, generate growth and create employment.
He also asked the minister of finance to be specific in the allocations madeby the respective subvented non-financial institutions under ministries to enable NAMs to know who and how much is given to each for the purposes of accountability and effective oversight.