Saturday, October 16, 2021

Let’s restore planning and development structures

This past weekend I decided to visit the bundus with the hope that I will refresh for the coming week. Yes, work can be taxing for many of us so it makes sense to find means and ways of restoring the much needed energy if we are to be productive. Unfortunately, the way many of us relax is not in any way helpful. I am finding it difficult now to exert effort on work in front of me because I have ‘jet lag’ from the long travel we engaged on with my friends. Although physically the trip was draining, it turned out more interesting because it offered us an opportunity to reflect on latest developments in our country. In our company were people from different walks of life; herdsmen, doctors, engineers and lawyers. Obviously, it was not a ‘men only’ expedition. The few ladies in our company also provided insight that would otherwise have not been availed had it just been a boy’s trip. In this instalment I revisit the emerging policy process institutionalising in our country.

After the crew had few bottles of holy water we relaxed and started getting to know each other. Few were from towns and cities but most were leading life in rural Botswana. It was a bit easier to tell from their faces that they faced hardship in their quest to make ends meet. Particularly for herdboys you could not tell their ages by looking at their faces. What the faces expressed was the cruelty of living in the margins. They were hanging loosely to the poverty datum line. And from our conversation that was not how they wanted to live; they had dreams to make it big in life ÔÇô they wanted to have their children attend school and realise their full opportunities anywhere in the world. I soon realised that these guys were not seeking sympathy from us. They just wanted to share their aspirations with us the hope being that we might be of help to them somehow. Equally, if we had nothing to offer in line with their expectations they were also fine. I liked how they laughed ÔÇô in a carefree manner. These people lead a happy life.

Soon the city dwellers did what they knew best: taking over the conversation and brought to table broader nation issues to try and explain why there was such a wide divide between ├║s’ and ‘them’. The topic that opened can of worms dealt with the annual P10 million ermarked for all 57 constituencies across the country. At the centre of the conversation was what prompted those in charge of our republic to adopt such approach to development or lack thereof. Not only was the questions related to the motives of such a proposal, but also on the modalities of its implementation and, subsequently, evaluation. How are the monies going to be utilised? Who will be in charge of the budget? Who proposes projects to be funded? And many related questions. But before I addresses these questions one needs to understand briefly how government policies used to be formulated, implemented and monitored.

            Botswana, for much of its post-independence period, was regarded as a model when it came to policy development. Consequently, we were known for formulation of sound public policies that addressed needs and wants of citizens. At the centre of this process were trained bureaucrats, who enjoyed greater latitude from their political master in terms of driving the policy process. Experts from across the world would be invited to advice on appropriate strategies in response to identified problems. In the whole scheme of things our political leaders would take a back seat, not because they did not want to be part of the process, but largely because they trusted capacity of bureaucrat’s and, at the same time, were fully aware of their own limitations at least academically. And more importantly, we had sound institutional mechanism/frameworks that guided how policies were implemented and evaluated. Yes they were not always effective, but they served us well. To illustrate, many projects and programmes were implemented in line with NDPs. The NDPs provided in this context a much needed strong framework for planning and budgeting purposes. In other words for any project to be undertaken it had to reflect within the nation plan and parliament was to agree on allocations for that project.

How things have changed in a short space of time. In the case under discussion, the consultation that underpinned consolidation of NDPs is no more. What is left in its place are directives with little input from parliament. On a serious not P10 Million will be provided for each constituency annually for the next three years and that money had not been debated and approved by MPs. Many of them are just in the dark like you and me about the same. How sad. Having displaced of one of the crucial elements of policy process ÔÇô consultation, our political leaders did not stop there. A cruel and reckless culture as far as public funds are to be used is being introduced where broader national framework for planning and executing programmes is being undermined. The massage is that it is no longer necessary for departments and ministries to make submissions to Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, which in turn consolidates the inputs into a national policy plan that acts as the country’s blueprint for national development policy.

I now gather that this money is debated at the Kgotla’s in terms of what they will be used for! The Kgosi and village development committees are at the centre of the process with MPs side-lined. Literally, we are giving these people a blank check and hope they will make miracles development-wise in their areas. Did we care about whether capacity exists at that level to manage such monies? Did we worry about accountability processes?

When we were done with our conversation I looked deeply in the eyes of our colleagues that we spent a nice weekend together. I could not help but felt sorry for the future generations of this country. The policy choices are so horrible that the prospects in this country are honestly bleak.

*Dr Molefhe teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana

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