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Sierra Leone News: 2019 Budget goes to Committee of Supply

After four days of intensive debate with criticisms and suggestion on the 2019 Appropriation Bill (2019 Budget), Members of Parliament (MPs) on Monday 19th November 2019 committed the document to the Committee on Supply for further scrutiny. Out of the 146 Members of Parliament and Paramount Chief Members of Parliament only 48 successfully caught the Speaker’s eyes to make their contributions on the 2019 budget debate with 6 MPs on the first allotted day, 12 on second day, 2 on the third day and 28 on the fourth and final day. The Bill aims at providing for the services of Sierra Leone for the year 2019 and for other related matters.  The Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, whiles tabling the 2019 budget in Parliament described it as ‘human capital development’ on Friday 2nd November 2018 that has the tendency to transform the country’s economic status and improve on the lives of the people. In light of that, the 2019 Appropriation Act in line with the relevant rules of the House has been committed to the Committee of Supply where the entire Membership of Parliament will be divided into six sub-committees for effective scrutiny of the various budgetary heads, subject to reporting and approval by the House when they resume sittings.  Members of Parliament together with Paramount Chiefs Members of Parliament were able to highlight issues of national interest that were either less considered or was not in any way captured by the drafters of the 2019 budget. These issues were presented to the House and the Deputy Minister of Finance who was present throughout the sitting for possible corrections and input where necessary for the benefit of the country. Throughout the allotted days, MPs, PCMPs deliberated on the free education package with references to its limitations on the beneficiaries across the country leaving pupils in community schools that are not government or government assisted out to struggle in accessing education. However MPs representing the ruling SLPP together with some opposition MPs representing the Coalition for Change (C4C) and the National Grand Coalition (NGC) were able to outline the successes and good will of the 2019 budget, even though some APC MPs vehemently opposed it. Contributing to the debate, the Leader of NGC Hon. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, recalled for the past two decades “we had run fast as a country but ended up at the same point where we started”, explaining that the SLPP led by Late President Kabba introduced the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP 1) whilst the APC under former President Koroma came with the Agenda for Prosperity and the Agenda for Change and now the 2019 budget by the SLPP under President Bio. He maintained despite all these documents the country is not doing well in the rankings of human development indices citing the most recent rankings. He called on the Government to make the 2019 Budget more pro-poor by allocating more funds to the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, maintaining fiscal discipline and increasing revenue mobilization. According to him despite the rationalization measures “the APC had spent too much” and that in view of the SLPP inheriting a bad economy, “yet the 2019 Budget of SLPP is also poised to spend more”, whilst speaking on the need for fiscal consolidation to spend more on education, health and agriculture”. Hon. Saa Emerson Lamina, Leader of C4C described the Budget as “brave, brilliant, balanced, dependable, reliable, and smart” which according to him has the human face to transform the country’s economy, explaining “the hue and cry on the 2019 Budget will become a fait accompli” if MPs have the time to go through the 2019 Budgetary estimates that deals with subsequent implementation in light of reviewing the Local Government Act of 2004, the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone and the Mines and Minerals Act of 2009 among other Acts. Hon Emerson showered praises on the Government for prudent financial expenditure, robust revenue mobilization by putting into effect the Treasury Single Account, disclosing the challenges to the implementation of the Budget centers around the huge mining companies paying pittance as tax to Government, the current huge debts inherited by Government, the preaching of toxic and divisive politics on ethnic and regional lines, and delayed grants. The Acting Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo said the APC is holding the view that governance is continuity, which should be characterized with honesty, commending the current Government for the implementation of the Treasury Single Account. He maintained the Budget did not take into account balance of trade and the failure to utilize stock exchange as innovative ways of paying for debts had been absolved by the country. “That the APC will contribute Le 1.4 Billion for the free quality education that had been launched and implemented by Government” he said, assuring that they in the opposition will continue to cooperate with Government by calling for correction on the mistakes that had been identified, whilst speaking on the need for national reconciliation, peace and development of the country. According to him “over taxation will drive investors away to Guinea and Liberia” that shares almost the same minerals but with different business atmosphere and that most of the investors in the country are now smuggling their businesses to Guinea and bring them to Sierra Leone without paying to the National Revenue Authority any tax. Acting Leader of Government Business, Hon. Sahr Mathew Nyuma spoke on the need for approving the 2019 Budget so as to enable Government to execute its programmes and policies geared towards the development of the country, maintaining, “revenue must be in conformity with expenditure”. According to him the SLPP inherited an abysmal economy, which is why, from which it is currently suffering, disclosing poverty is roaring amongst Sierra Leoneans like a roaring lion. He disclosed as a way of eliminating the poverty rate among the people the Government has implemented the Treasury Single Account and cut down of expenditure by introducing the Executive Orders. According to the Speaker of Parliament MPs especially the new ones should focus on Standing Order 64 and 66 and if they have time extend to 67 that will guide them on the process at the Committee of Supply stage, disclosing that the House will be divided into 6 parts to handle the entire Budget at that stage. He went further allocating 3 days for the Committee on Supply to deliberate on the Budget after which they should present their report to the entire House Members stating 28 November 2019 and the Budget is expected to be approved on November 30 this year.

By Alhaji M Kamara

Wednesday November 21, 2018.

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