By Momodou Jarju
The National Assembly Select Committee on Health, Women, Children and Disaster Relief on Monday 4th November 2019 engaged the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on the need for support on budget allocation for the Ministry of Health (MoH), to ameliorate the situation of children in the country.
The UN Agency was invited by the aforesaid committee to throw light on its mandate and interventions among others, in the country.
In the Budget Estimates for 2019, Health was allocated 1.162 billion dalasi out of a total budget of 28.73 billion dalasi. In the 2018 Budget Estimates, Health was allocated 852 million dalasi.
UNICEF Country Representative Sandra Lattouf in her presentation, said despite the improvement in the situation of children in The Gambia, more needs to be done for further enhancement of their situation and that the Select Committee is a key partner in this aspect.
She said in terms of the under 5 mortality rate, figures have dropped from 109 out of 1,000 in 2010 to 59 out of 1,000 in 2018; that however, neonatal and maternal mortality have not declined.
She urged Government to support the Health Ministry up to the level of appropriate staffing and preventive services which includes funds for critical lifesaving nutrition supplies.
Ms. Lattouf urged Government especially the Select Committee to lead this crusade to support Children at the level of the National Assembly.
“Investing in children from the earliest age and in their time of youth, is imperative for building the human capital required to turn the demographic transition into growth dividends that will reduce poverty and generate prosperity, if we want to have a strong voice for children and help Government to narrow the priorities for investment and advocacy,” she said.
Members of the Select Committee took turns to ask and comment on Ms. Lattouf presentation.
Dawda Jawara the Member for Upper Fulladu Constituency said the expectations which the UNICEF representative brought before them, are similar to what other institutions presented especially on budget allocation. “But that is not the problem,” he said.
Jawara said every year, the NAMs, especially the Select Committee on Health, endeavors to increase the budget allocation for Health; but that the problem is on how to supervise the budget allocation to the relevant sectors so that the money allocated would be put into good use.
The Member for Upper Fulladu Constituency said he is worried about the capacity gap they have as a Committee which includes the technical expertise on children and related issues. This, he said, is a challenge they are grappling with.
Saikou Marong, the Member for Latrikunda Sabiji and Member of the Select Committee on Health said they lack capacity when it comes to children and women’s issues. Thus, he called for capacity building to enhance their work on this area(s). Marong assured UNICEF that at the next budget session, they would do their best to increase the budget allocation for the Health Ministry; that it is important for those requesting for increment in budget allocations for them to defend their requests.
In her response, UNICEF’s Sandra Lattouf said the point they were making is not on increment on buget allocations alone, but on how the budget is to be used and monitored.
On capacity building, Lattouf said they can facilitate if the committee needs support; but that the committee can have the expertise from the Ministry of Health for example.
The Chairperson of the NA Select Committee on Health and Member for Banjul North Constituency Ousman Sillah, said the challenge is not only to increase the Budget, but its disbursement and monitoring.
He said his Committee will engage the Ministry of Finance on this matter.
In terms of capacity building, Sillah said next on the issue, they will engage UNICEF because they have an expert to engage them on the matter.
Bakary Camara, the Member for Kiang Central and Member of the Select Committee on Health, said the disbursement of the money allocated is the biggest problem. Thus, he urged the Committee do something now.