Last summer – Paris St. Germain signed the Brazilian superstar — Neymar — for $258M – amid a lot of fanfare, exaltation by the Parisien faithful. My university — Virginia Tech — just posted their operating budget for the 2018 fiscal year in the amount of $1.5B – serving a student population of 33,000. In the same period – the Government of The Gambia released their numbers for the operating budget for the 2018 fiscal year — about $300M – to meet some of the demands, wants and needs of 2M of its inhabitants. Neymar’s price tag is almost the amount of our operating budget. The Virginia Tech operating budget is leaps and bounds ahead of the operating budget of our government. Let that sink in. At first blush – these numbers seem utterly jarring and crushing. It hits hard like a bus. It’s also a sobering reality of the herculean challenges facing the current administration – given the ouster of the administration of old. But with any change of government also comes high expectations – because after all the whistle-stop, the rough and tumble of politics, comes the hardest part of it all — governance. And, my people, Statecraft ain’t never easy – because governance is hard, it’s daunting, it usually deviates from expectations of the governed. But this sobering reality should also highlight, to all and sundry, that the government won’t be able to tackle most of our major problems – with such meagre resources at its disposal, for the foreseeable future; though it can do something within its means to fix some of its shortcomings.
Some Suggestions on the Way Forward:
The most important thing to learn from this budget is that, we are a very poor country, we are broke, we don’t have enough money, we are basically rationing to stay afloat. Nonetheless, given these jarring statistics – I think the times also call for a shrewd approach to the appropriation of these dwindling funds to yield a more efficient, effective government, by cutting (don’t confuse for austerity), trimming, and merging certain agencies, departments, ministries. Many ministries have similar portfolios, and/or even the same goals, so merging a handful of them, would, in turn, help in streamlining, reduce red tape, free up a lot of resources for many other agencies. In light of that, I think it’d be prudent for the government to consider the following:
Merge the ministries of Basic and Higher Education under one umbrella — a unitary Ministry responsible for education. This would save money, manpower, capacity, and reduce the bureaucracy and red tape.
Merge the Attorney General’s office and the Interior. There’s no reason why the country’s top cop shouldn’t be overseeing the Interior Ministry. Furthermore, Jammeh created a police state, thereby, bloating the security budget and expanding the security service. I don’t think we need all the security personnel, and as such, downsizing the police, para, immigration, drug squad, would free up money, and that money could be redirected toward employment, industry; the biggest problem facing The Gambia is not petty crime – but joblessness and lack of industries.
As a student of international relations – I know how important it is to have relations with countries around the world. But, I do also know that you have to live within your means – and make the most of what you have. Like the old axiom goes: “charity begins at home”. To that end – trim the diplomatic corps – the embassies, especially the ones in the Middle East. We have five embassies in the Middle East alone, one or two of the embassies could potentially serve all of these countries.
Merge Environment, Climate Change, Water Resources, and Wildlife with Fisheries and Water Resources. This is basically tautology. And, Petroleum and Energy could be an appendage.
The funds for Trade, Employment, Industry is awfully low; take some of the money from a department like defense and use it to create opportunities, avenues for more employment and industries. More employed people, more industries, more revenue, a bigger economic base, a bigger budget.
The defense department is one of those Jammeh babies that need to be awfully trimmed. Don’t want to sound radical – but slash that budget by half – we can’t afford to spend that kind of money on weapons and defense – when our people don’t have proper medical care and facilities, enough food, and enough jobs.
If the United States government – the biggest enterprise known to man can run their government with 14 ministries – I think we should be able to pull it off with less.
Finally- if you take a closer look at the budget – you’ll also see that the highest appropriation in the budget goes toward the servicing of our national debt. This, in toto, should be a learning curve, in that, we ought to know that we are not going to borrow our way into prosperity or out of the economic tumult. Meaning, we need a clear strategy to charter a path to graduating from this humongous behemoth. Last spring the minister of finance proposed a cut in spending to tackle the rising debt, which is a good starting point; however, at this juncture, and with such a small amount of money at our disposal, with an ever growing population, austerity is not the answer to our problems. I would love to see that money redirected to, say, education. My economic grounding comes from The Chicago/Austrian School; however, with such an informal, non-industrialized economy, the approach of across the board government cuts is simply a palliative. Notwithstanding, I do think that we can cut, trim, merge certain departments, ministries, agencies, use the resources to fix our dilapidated, crumbling health, education sectors, among other things.
Finally, let’s not lose sight of the fact that political change without economic development, absent for symbolism, seldom adds to much, apart from the aesthetics. It is about the economy. It has been about the economy and it will always be about the economy.
Albeit – there’s a lot to be hopeful about this new Gambia.
I am, as always, cautiously optimistic.
For Country —