Parliament approves Le3.7 trillion Supplementary Budget


July 16, 2018

By Jariatu S. Bangura

Finance Minister Jacob Jusu Saffa

Lawmakers have on Friday, 13th July, unanimously approved a bill entitled “The Supplementary Appropriation Act 2018” in the tune of Le3, 721, 559, 915, 500 – an additional budget that would bankroll the policies and programmes contained in President Bio’s New Direction agenda.

While presenting the bill for approval, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Jacob Jusu Saffa, said that if the bill is passed the new administration would redirect and reposition prioritised policies and programmes contained in the New Direction, with a view to improving revenue generation and prudent fiscal management in the country.

In October last year, the previous administration under President Ernest Koroma presented the 2018 budget to parliament, which was approved on December 6, 2017 and executed in January this year.

But the finance minister told lawmakers that after their victory in the March election, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP)-led government examined the assumptions underpinned in the budget in the context of the New Direction, hence a supplementary budget was prepared to meet its expenditure.

The minister said the additional budgetary allocation would go towards procuring 50 school buses; subsidising university application forms; providing free primary and secondary education; reducing tariffs on beer and wheat flour; increasing royalty on timber exports from $1,500 to $2,500 for 20-feet container; and strengthening parliamentary oversight by freeing it from dependence on incentives by MDAs, among others.

“We decided to revise the budget because the priorities of the previous administration are different from ours. This was articulated in the presidential speech presented to this House by President Bio on the occasion of the State Opening of the First Session of the Fifth Parliament. The provision of the free quality, basic and secondary school education is a key priority under the New Direction and such priority has to reflect in the budgetary allocations,” he said.

Mr. Saffa explained that Le1.4 trillion, representing 21% of the budget, would be allocated to the education sector to pay salaries of teachers, cover free basic and secondary education, Teaching Service Commission and Tertiary Education Commission in consonant with the President’s manifesto.

Similarly, the minister noted that Le12 billion have been allocated as advance payment for the purchase of 50 buses that would be managed by local councils across the country, adding that an additional Le5 billion would be provided for skills training in the next six months.

The finance minister averred that to demonstrate the seriousness of  government to improve the education sector, government has put aside Le5 billion for the introduction of conditional cash transfer programme to the sector in order to encourage very poor parents to allow their children to attend school instead of engaging street hawking.

He revealed there are provisions to subsidise the energy sector to ensure reliable power supply to households and businesses as well as realigning budgetary allocation in the economic sector with tourism and agricultural sector.

“As part of the mitigation measures, government is providing 10% of the basic salary to all Civil Servants, teachers, police, military, Correctional Services and the National Fire Force in grade 1to 6 as transport allowance. This will cost government Le24.6 billion for the second half of the year and benefit 49,181 government workers which amount to 71% of the public sector work force,” he said.

Minister Saffa disclosed that the government would discourage sole sourcing procurement by ministries, departments and agencies, adding that all procurement activities must be directed to the Ministry of Finance for approval.

Chairman of the Finance Committee in Parliament, Hon. Francis A. Kaisamba, commended the minister for presenting an ‘elaborate budget’ that would rationalise business priorities especially in the education sector.

Hon. Kaisamba emphasised that there was every need for a supplementary budget to mitigate challenges in the education sector as there have been over reliance on the mineral, agriculture, tourism and fisheries sectors to help fulfill promises made by the president in parliament.

Leader of Coalition for Change (C4C) party, Hon. Saa Emerson Lamina, commended the minister for his presentation of the budget, noting that it makes provision for reduction of taxes on alcoholic beverages and other products on the basis that it would discourage smugglers that use porous borders to bring them into the country.

“In Kono alone, there are less Chief Security Guards with 52 porous borders. You can imagine how smuggling of such products has been taking place there but with the reduction of taxes, I hope it will be very necessary for the amendment of the Finance Act in order for the implementation to take place,” he said.

All People’s Congress lawmaker, Hon. Roland F. Kargbo, said the forecast in the supplementary budget was good as it has a lot of programmes earmarked in the New Direction, but urged the government to be mindful that in education nothing is free.

He said there are many unapproved schools and unapproved teachers in some remote villages, hence there was need to address those challenges so that all the school going children benefit from the scheme.

Hon. Kargbo said the 50 buses that the government has promised to purchase might not go to rural areas, but urged that any remaining funds be sent to communities that would not benefit from the buses.

Hon. Zainab Kathrine Tarawally of the APC said the 3.7 trillion supplementary budgetary allocation was good, but opined that some challenges are envisaged especially as the country now grapples with high exchange rate.

She said: “If the exchange rate is high, I am not sure if such prices will be reduced. Alcohol is not basic commodity and if its price is reduced, nothing will be gained. NASSIT pension is a big problem as it is not realistic and if an increase in salary is now made for Civil Servants, I hope it will be addressed.”

Leader of the opposition in parliament, Hon. Chernor Ramadam Bah, described the minister’s presentation as “elaborate but very necessary, noting that he is an ardent supporter of education in the country.

He also hailed the reduction of tariff on flour and encouraged the minister to revisit the common external tariff on tobacco, fruit juices and other commodities, thus suggesting that royalties from timber should also be paid into the Treasury Single Account.

He urged the government to ensure the availability and timely disbursement of funds relating to the free education policy, including commencement of the procurement process, and the need to capacitate civil servants, especially those who had retired on minimal pensions and do not owning a house.

Speaking on the diversification of the economy, leader of the National Grand Coalition (NGC), Hon. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, called for the repatriation of diplomats in line with the Vienna Convention.
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He praised the government for subsidising the purchase of university application forms and agreeing to strengthen parliamentary oversight in and out of the country.