By Mustapha Darboe
Gambians on social media have expressed disappointment at what many considered to be a hallmark of fiscal indiscipline for the administration of President Adama Barrow to spend over D230 million on travels and per diem.
In a stunning revelation on Wednesday, finance Minister Mamburay Njie, has told lawmakers that the government has spent 230, 316, 042 on travelling from January to July this year.
“… Given the problems the country faces during the transition to democracy and the rule of law, there must be a check on foreign travel. The trajectory of the cost to the public treasury is unsustainable and the public has taken notice, especially in the wake of the release of these figures,” said Sidi Sanneh, an analyst on Gambian affairs and a blogger.
According to the finance minister, the Gambian leader has spent 18, 319, 667 on his recent meet people’s tour.
And the travel expenditure for the office of the president from January to July 2018 was 116, 069, 926; the general service expenditure on charter flights from January to July was 23, 733, 459 while the National Assembly travel expenditure from January to July was 12, 460, 022.
The finance ministry itself has spent 20, 540, 555 on travels within the same period.
“Who is looking after our interest,” wrote Absa Samba, a Gambian activist studying in America.
When Barrow got elected in December 2016, the Gambian economy was going through tough times.
The public debt which is now 136% to GDP ratio was 120% while youth unemployment was 38%. And about 48% of the country also live below a dollar a day.
But the Gambian leader promised a new era of fiscal discipline but his critics said that promise has been broken.
“I will not recommend an embargo on foreign travel but would strongly suggest that the government put in place control measures designed to scrutinize every travel request to establish whether it is justified or not. Stringent rules of the road regarding official foreign travel must be put in place that must be stringently applied across the board if we are to control runaway costs,” said Sanneh.
“As a good faith measure and to lead by example, why don’t the President start with his Office by forgoing his planned trip to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) this year. He also attended last year’s UNGA. He’s already made two trips to China, a trip each to Dubai and Saidi Arabia among other foreign trips. By curtailing his foreign travels, he will be sending the right signal to his ministers that they should do likewise. When ministers exercise restraint and discipline, officials will follow suit. There is no justification for a poor country like ours to be spending more on per diem than on healthcare.”
Meanwhile, Gambia has two days ago sought support from donour partners to feed its 1.7 million people who may be food insecure as a result of erratic rains.