The Gambia: Improving Fiscal Transparency at a Critical Juncture

  • Eguiar Lizundia

In transitioning democracies with weak public health systems, governing institutions are being put under enormous strain by the COVID-19 pandemic. With trillions of dollars in aid set to flow to address both the public health and economic crisis, the risk of graft is enormous. By supporting transparency and other anti-corruption measures, development organizations like the International Republican Institute (IRI) are helping citizens to understand and hold governments accountable for spending.

Last month, the Gambian Constitutional Review Commission presented a new draft constitution that includes a chapter on public finance. Concurrently, the central government, with assistance from IRI and the Gambian civil society, has worked to make its recently released 2020 Citizens Budget more accessible. Measures to enhance the accessibility of the budget come at a critical moment in the current juncture in The Gambia, as the new constitution includes several notable changes in some of the provisions of the budgetary process. Greater fiscal transparency also comes at a time when increased scrutiny will be needed as The Gambia is already receiving support from the international community to combat COVID-19 and Chinese aid has already reached the country.  

When based on accurate data and properly disseminated, citizen budgets are the foundation of transparent governance. Budgets should reflect constituents’ preferences and provide detailed information on planned government revenue and expenditures. However, budget data is often voluminous and too complex for many people. Citizen budgets simplify public finance information so that regular citizens can access it and have a better understanding of how the government manages financial resources. They do so by using nontechnical language, utilizing simple graphs and charts and highlighting key data.

Many countries around the world have already adopted this practice in their efforts to increase government transparency. Last year, The Gambia was included for the first time in the Open Budget Survey that monitors progress towards global transparent budgeting, including the development of proper citizen budgets.

With the help of IRI, The Gambia’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs (MoFEA) released the 2020 Citizen Budget in March. IRI has worked with the MoFEA to make government spending more transparent and accessible since 2018. Drawing from our experience supporting similar efforts in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and Cambodia, IRI provided technical assistance in enhancing the presentation of budgetary information and shared international examples from within and outside the region.

This year, our work culminated in a partnership with Gambia Participates (GP), a youth-led local civil society organization that developed an infographic with a visual summary of the government’s priorities for 2020. In collaboration with GP, IRI is hosting radio shows where politicians receive questions directly from citizens regarding government expenditures. The Know Your Budget initiative seeks to facilitate platforms where constituents can directly engage with their National Assembly representatives around the budget, and the citizen budget provides the public with the baseline understanding to effectively question their representatives.

In The Gambia and elsewhere, low faith in government authorities can jeopardize government efforts to implement public policies, including those needed during a public health crisis. In the upcoming weeks, IRI and GP will be following the COVID-19 money by closely monitoring the utilization of funds associated with the response to the pandemic. This includes tracking all public and private planned and effective expenditures associated with addressing the impacts of the epidemic in The Gambia. By having an improved understanding of how resources are allocated, Gambians will be better equipped to identify the misuse of government funds and hold their representatives accountable.

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