National Development Plan —fine line between success and failure

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By Lamin Darboe

Stakeholder involvement
The document need proper marketing to sell it to all stakeholders especially the people of the Gambia; not only to capture their imagination but to make them part of the plan. The fact that the plan was conceived and penned by the government technocracy however, all manifestations, it is the people’s plan for socio-economic salvation. They should be part and parcel of it so that in the unlikely event of failure it is not seen as the government that failed but the whole country failed.

It should also be sold to civil servants of the individual ministries especially those who will be directly involved in the operationalisation and implementation.
Gambian intellectuals especially those in the diaspora should be engaged to be part of the plan, to own it, in some way to feel that they are valued partners in the implementation of the plan. That their inputs in term of ideas, skills and expertise, connections and other resources are critically needed and valued. It is noteworthy to state that, the diasporas remittances play a crucial role in providing much needed foreign currency, the sponsors of many local projects and perhaps the key stakeholders in many businesses in the Gambia. E.g. building materials businesses.

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The implementation committee which is officed at the office of the president should cast their out-look far and wide by instituting a media presence that will provide timely and reliable information about the developments of the plan and invites views across the board. It is also important to have a discussion space or wall where people will exchange ideas or suggestions which can be mined to augments or adjust the plan to give it a renewed impetus.

There should be encouragement given to whistle blowers who can document and report about unhelpful activities, malfeasance, mal-administration if they strongly feel that is undermining the successful implementation.

This is quite sensitive and invariably requires tactful management because our people has natural penchant for rumour or radio Kankang which by default is devoid of evidence.
Project implementation is a marriage of art and science. A science would have specific parameters and strict modus operandi while an art presupposes flexible approach which factors whole ranges of variables that can impact on a project. As an Art, it encapsulates variables like the motivations, personalities, aspirations of operators. It factors the many combinations of alternative ways of achieving the same results albeit the most efficient, effective and economic actions.

Project planning and strategy espouse an art because projects as plans are human crafted and human operationalise therefore its success and failures are inherently influenced by vicissitudes and vulnerabilities in our life. Consequently, it requires excellent management skills to manoeuvre between contesting variables to achieve positives synergies; as the Rastafarian will put colourfully, the positive vibrations are positively channelled. In the same vein negative synergy or vibrations are monitored and enfeebled to minimize their impacts.

 

Importance of effectives monitoring-Extra and Intra-ministerial steering and Monitoring groups
An impressive observation is operational performance measurement. The strategic and tactical level targets are rigorously and clearly stated however I have the feeling that their operational level performance measures are not distinctively documented. The measurable targets on monthly, bi-annually or annually should be made clear to the operational level Departments. There should be reporting systems and procedures in place to ensure performance is timely measured and reported along the chain of command.

The statistics department and Ministry of Finance data collation and analyses department should be adequately resourced with right calibres of staff in terms of IT, data mining skills and experience to meet the reporting requirement. They should properly collate and analyses performance information on timely and cost-effective manner to ensure managers react to problems effectively.

 

Government need Internal Efficiency.
The NDP seem to be scarce on how it will be substantially financed itself noting that the new government inherited huge budgetary and fiscal deficit. I don’t think donor grants and financial aid alone can finance the NDP.

A progressive government cannot rely on external funding in forms of loans and grants to steer the engine of meaningful long-term social-economic development. It should create an effective and efficient mechanism to create a rich internal revenue base which is properly structured and implemented with the use of modern technology. I guess that is what the current Finance minister Mr Amadou Sanneh had in mind, to establish a modern IT infrastructure that will sustain a modern internet broadband system and other technical infrastructure for a modernised economic and revenue collection system. His effort had generated some controversy which led to the unfortunate fracas between the speaker, Mariama Denton and Halifa Sallah.

A key obstacle I surmise which has the potential for rendering the NDP unachievable is official corruption. I mean corruption from the classroom teachers to the ministers. It needs to be tackled head on and the President has to set the scene and set an unblemished example. First he should declare his assets and urge all ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Directors and other high level officials to do the same.
They should weed out wastage of resources in form of expensive travel, extravagant transport/car for senior officials.

The ministry of finance should take centre stage as it has a vital role, almost an existential role to play to ensure Gambia run a near balance budget within 5 years.
This is achievable if government budgetary waste is curbed. It is obvious that the clamp down on official corruption is very problematic and politically sensitive especially in a transition period. Transition from an entrenched dictatorship with its network of entrenched operators to nascent democracy full of expectations.
Attitude change in the civil service and indeed the parastatals is sacrosanct to a National development Plan. The entrenched notion that “its government property, no one owns it” or as Babung Fatty once put it in mandinka ” faafa la nyo moobey ta” ( meaning Mr X maize belong to the everyone and no one). The insinuation is that everyone is at liberty to misuse it.

 

Overhaul and Modernisation of the Tax and Revenue System
Of overwhelming importance, is the overhauls of the tax system which at this juncture is quite porous. A large number of small businesses which were the engine of growth in many countries in the developed world like the UK, are the biggest source of employment. However, in all those countries, small businesses were properly registered and administered for tax purposes. In the Gambia the opposite is true.

The overwhelming majority of small businesses are not registered for tax purposes and I will be surprised if the Revenue department or Ministry of Finance has a register of all the small businesses in the entire country.
How many tailors, carpenters, electricians, masonry are not registered and pay no tax yet could earn up to D100,000 a year. Many small businesses like shops, bakers, fitters or mechanics earn more than ministers yet are not registered for tax and they don’t pay a penny for tax in the whole of their existence. Many of the people who own these types of small businesses come from the sub-region and easily transport their revenues to their countries of origin.

 

Establishing a Proper Financial Control System
If I were the Finance Minister these four areas including proper control of project finances will be my key focus. That is what we call risk-based approach in auditing and regulatory control however we can call it here as, maximal financial return approach for expedience. It means resources are deployed in areas where much impact can be realised in the economy.

Economy, efficiency and effectiveness is the key evaluation criteria and all project should meet the 3Es plus public utility to be funded.
Being Project manager is the most contested position in the Gambia, why?, it is simply because by the time the project ends, often in failure, they become filthy rich.

 

Parastatal Reform
Government has to tap internal resources by restructuring the parastatals ensure they are fit for purpose. In the last 22 years of Jammeh misrule, parastatal executives, managers and indeed their boards of governors had allowed themselves to be exploited as cash cows in way that exhibited abdication of executive functionality. The board of governors failed miserably in their oversight and have colluded in many ways, in the ransack of the meagre resources by Jammeh regime.
The current government should institute a commission to look into performance agreement with the aim of restructuring and re-orientation of parastatals to ensure that they are prepared to be more efficient and effective.

 

To ensure:
· There is strong board of governors with the right skills and experience to give strategic direction and resources to achieve objectives
· That parastatals remain focussed and attuned to their partnership arrangement with the government to promote/accelerate economic growth and development that will drive the socio-economic transformation of our country.

· That the management have the focus and strategic clarity, strong human resources and institutional capacity to attract and retain the skill sets needed to drive performance.
· That there is adequate performance management framework that effectively link performance of Parastatals to national development goals.
· Support efforts aimed improving delivery of services, including meeting basic needs of citizens.

Creating employment opportunities in various sectors
· To provide avenue to build institutional capacity and capability in terms of management, technical and IT skills
Most of the parastatals have highly competent human resource base and are predisposed to produce good results. The only limiting factor I guess was solid commitment and patriotic motivations. Managers should see themselves as agents of the people of the Gambia not agents of the president.

Jammeh succeeded in milking the parastatals because there was ready reservoir of professionals willing to do his bidding even if that means compromising their professional ethics and conscience. If few mangers said no to Jammeh and resigned instead of aiding his sinister enterprise, he wouldn’t have succeeded the way he did.

 

Managers need to be adequately remunerated and motivated by creating incentives to excel
A parastatal like GPA has had great transformation during the Jammeh era and was one of the key cash cows Jammeh exploited to the maximum. That institution was stuffed with Jammeh sycophants most whom lacked the educational training and skill competence required to effectively carry out their duties.
To a casual observer GPA has an encumbering bureaucracy and the level of political meddling is stifling it progress. It is also evident to a casual observer that there is little synergy between GPA core competence and Ferry services. Ferry services should be under a new Parastatal as in the Jawara era like GPTC so that all transport services will be run by a dedicated management.

 

Conclusion
The Gambia as progressive nation cannot afford to ski on a wave of complacency, tribal politics and an unchecked corruption. We cannot afford to propagate same inefficient and bureaucratic financial system, the mis-adventurous development projects perpetrated under the Jawara regime, perfected under the Jammeh and now being repackaged in this new nymphic government.
The president need to take the bull by the worn and conduct a wide ranging reform of all government institutions and parastatals to ensure to they are fit for purpose in the delivery of excellent services in accordance with their mandate.

The NDP is an excellent attempt to focus the government attention to some strategic goals and objectives which are achievable within the designated time frame. It will provide its policies package a framework and coherence to ensure its activities are not untargeted and premised on fire-fight reactions.
The success of NDP will emanate from the success of its implementation and the stewardship of our leaders. The leadership should show commitment and sense of direction and they must be seen to be exemplary role model themselves in terms of honesty, political propriety and good governance.

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