Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Poor implementation capacity hampers effective service delivery

In implementation, both quality and quantity matter. While access to services may be provided to many citizens, care needs to be taken to control the expenditure, to provide sufficient oversight and to measure progress and report accordingly. These variables are often found extremely lacking in project implementation in Botswana.

A research paper that examined factors that contribute to poor project implementation in Botswana concluded that “the complexity of policy challenges, the supply driven nature of implementation, the declining policy commitment and the reluctance to reform are the main challenges to implementation”.

The research paper, titled, “An analysis of Botswana’s implementation challenges” acknowledges that a consensus has been built to portray Botswana as an effective democracy with “with a sound policy framework that has persisted for a long time. However, Botswana policies are characterized by poor implementation”.

The paper further underscores that “notwithstanding the progress made in terms of facilitating access to services, calls for better implementation have grown louder and persistent”.

Government also acknowledged the problem in the eighth National Development Plan (1997 – 2003) where it was noted “the inadequate implementation capacity has been identified as one of the main bottlenecks in delivering services nationwide”.

In the budget speech of 2014/15, the then minister of finance Kenneth Matambo decried poor project implementation and, in particular, noted that: The government remains concerned about the poor performance by some private contractors in implementing government projects as well as the future cost of maintaining such facilities. In addition, over the past years, the development budget has been under spent, on average by 15 – 30 percent per year, which denies Batswana the necessary services”.

One of the major challenges that Botswana faces in implementation is a slow diversifying economy accompanied by high youth unemployment which is understandably higher than the national average.

Persistent poverty is another policy challenge according to the research paper. An observation has been made that the poverty rates remain high, given the public expenditure on social welfare programmes and Botswana’s per capita income.

Most worrisome is the fact that “Botswana remains one of the most unequal societies in the world” according to the World Bank. Lack of infrastructure development has also been cited as another major implementation challenge facing the country.

“Botswana development projects are invariably delivered late. They are also characterized by poor workmanship and budget overruns”, states the research paper raising suspicions of prevalent corruption in the construction sector, “tending to defeat the ideal of citizen participation in the economy and technology transfer”.

The research paper further reckons that while there appears to be a consensus that implementation challenges have become more pronounced in Botswana, yet there is no profound explanation for the problem.

“Until recently, lack of finance, which is one of the often cited implementation challenges, has not been a problem in Botswana. However, this challenge is likely to gain prominence with the decline of mineral revenues”, states the research paper that also decries “declining public accountability, lack of commitment to reforming the public sector, and a decline in commitment by state authorities”.

The research paper further notes that lack of commitment to selected policy choices is emerging as an important challenge for project implementation in the country. Since the turn of the new millennium, “the government has increasingly created and adopted policies to which it does not adhere”.

To the disappointment of the researchers, policy commitment assists in building state credibility (when dealing with outsiders such as investors), and certainty among the locals.

According to the research paper, a number of examples show failure in characterized by “the slowing momentum of policy implementation, and the policy reversals mentioned have other costs”.

The paper also bemoans “a steady decline in public accountability”. Optimal public accountability ensures that goals are not diverted, and excesses are kept at a minimal, but holding politicians and public servants accountable for their actions (or omissions) is diminishing in Botswana.

“Such a culture pervades the civil service and state owned corporations. In the civil service, the limited capacity for oversight by Parliament and the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) compounds the problem. Parliament comes into contact with the budget on the day the speech is read by the minister in charge of finance.

“Parliament then has only a month to debate a document that has taken ten times longer to prepare, with little access to the parameters that informed the same budget(s). Similarly, the OAG lacks the authority to enforce some of the decisions it makes in relation to poor management of public resources, leading to repeated malpractice”, laments the research paper.

According to the research paper, where state owned corporations are concerned, a number of parliamentary inquiries have revealed a worrying trend that points to a lack of accountability.

Parliamentary committees set up to investigate poor performance at some state owned corporations concluded that the major causes of failure include poor corporate governance, lack of due diligence, failure to contain prices, and poor project management.

“Poor accountability results in implementing agents not taking their tasks seriously, misappropriating funds, or changing the goals of policy”, decries the research paper adding that since the turn of the century, Botswana’s ranking in certain policy areas, particularly those concerned with industrial development, and competitiveness and doing business have been declining steadily.

It is further reckoned that initially adept at reforming her political, economic, legal and other frameworks, “Botswana’s reluctance to reform is becoming more pronounced”. The decline is shown by indicators such as doing Business Index (DBI) and the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) suggesting “an unwillingness by Botswana to reform its policies and laws to respond to a changing world”.

The paper further laments that while many of the policy challenges facing the government are complex, “many implementation structures are ill-suited to handle complexity. The result of this is that implementers focus overly on one cause or effect, to the detriment of other equally important causes or effects of these policy challenges”.

Another important implementation challenge is the propensity, particularly in the public sector, to undertake projects without due assessment of the need for such projects. “Projects are developed because of the government ability to procure them than an assessed need for such projects”, the research paper observes.

According to the research study, “supply driven implementation has a number of undesirable consequences. Among these effects are that though undertaken at great financial cost, outputs of such implementation tend to have little relevance to the needs of the nation”.

Additionally, when projects are implemented without due regard for demand, “priority areas are deprived of the much needed funds”.  Added to the foregoing, projects implemented without due regard for demand send wrong signals to the market; businesses tend to mobilize financial and other resources in response to what they see as public sector priorities, “only for these to have minimal future sustainability”.

“The consequences of this that that businesses may borrow money from banks, train and employ human resources and purchase materials, only for the government priorities to change, saddling such businesses with expensive and idle facilities”, warns the research paper adding that “for public policy goals to be realized, implementation needs to optimized”.

Yet in another 2017 research paper titled “Enhancing Public Project Implementation in Botswana During The NDP 11 Period”, the author, Professor Emmanuel Botlhale posits that project implementation is key to effective and efficient service delivery.

However, Botswana has a chequered history of project implementation since evidenced that public project implementation is very problematic. The case for improved public project implementation should be apparent to all. Amongst others, thus calls for the adoption of professional public project implementation and increased responsibility for results and non-results by public managers.

According to the research paper, successful project implementation is critical in development planning. If there is poor project implementation, economic development will be stalled.

Generally, project implementation has a chequered history. This is particularly true in developing countries which are characterized by low levels of project management maturity.

Professor Botlhale’s paper reviewed public project implementation in Botswana and recommended improvements for the National Development Plan (NDP) 11 period that runs from 2017 to 2023.

NDPs are national macroeconomic blueprints that contain government strategies planned to be undertaken over the plan period. To deliver the NDPs, programmes and projects are designed and implemented. NDPs are mere intentions that can only have a meaning if they are translated into goods and services, for example, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and so on, to improve the lives of Batswana.

“For this to happen, programme and projects implementation is key. Unfortunately, Botswana has a chequered history of project implementation… ‘there is a growing gap between the establishment of policy and its implementation’ and that the rapid growth in the formulation of policies has not been matched by the pace of implementation”, it is submitted.

According to professor Botlhale, project implementation is still very problematic. Implementation is the most important phase of the project cycle. Successful project implementation will result in a successful project. However, successful project implementation is complex and difficult.

This is not to say that successful project implementation is an impossible feat…the challenge, therefore, is to deploy all efforts to ensure successful implementation, and hence a successful project. All things being equal, successful project implementation would ensure project success.

“Botswana, similarly suffers from the malaise of project implementation…in conclusion, the cumulative effects of poor project implementation are as follows: time and budget (cost overruns) and; shoddy projects. Moving forward, there is a demonstrated case for improved public project implementation. This is particularly pertinent in an era characterized by fiscal stress during the NDP 11 period 2017 to 2023” argues professor Botlhale. 

A mid-term review of NDP 10 shows that there are public project implementation challenges. In specific reference to the public buildings sector, the report alluded that ‘poor project management due to insufficient planning and skills capacity deficiency reduce efficiency of project delivery’.

The results were the following: project cost overruns, frequent scope changes, conflicts on sites and late completion of projects. In addition, some projects that were lined up for implementation during the NDP 10 were not implemented. The result is that these projects, if still needed, will be rolled over to NDP 11 which commenced operation on 1st April 2017.

Looking at the NDP 11 budget, it is demonstrable that there will be limited revenues to fund developments projects and this means “that there is need to revamp the architecture of project implementation in Botswana”.

Admittedly, enhancing the architecture of public projects implementation in Botswana needs a multifaceted, multilayered and multi-stakeholder approach. That is, the enterprise must be approached from many and varied angles.

Utmost attention must be paid to the implementation phase of the project as successful project implementation is predicated on the application of the science of professional project management, complete with trained (career) project managers.

“Project management is not accidental; it is something that is purposeful. Therefore, there is a need to cultivate a culture of professional project management in the public sector. That is, the government cannot practice project management by accident.

“In a related vein, there is tendency to appoint non-project managers as project managers. In summary, these are engineers and senior public servants who just happen to be occupying a certain managerial (or senior) position” argues professor Botlhale.

On a balance of probabilities, these managers could be seasoned engineers or public managers. However, this is as far as their professional competency goes; they cannot be project managers (unless as accidental project managers)”, Professor Botlhale further avers.

In fact, in a field trip undertaken by the author with the Project Management class in September 2015, one of the project officers decried the practice of appointing non-project managers as project managers.

“The trouble is that some of us are not trained project managers but we are deployed as project managers…this practice must stop”, decried an interviewee during the Professor Botlhale research study.

Professor Botlhale further in his research finds out that although the Public Finance Management Act 2011 provides for sanctions for incidents in which the government needlessly lose money through the actions of public officials, this is done in breach than in the observance.

In the end, “the government loses billions of Pula because of amongst others, negligence, but only a few are held to account for the losses. Hence, the time is nigh for public officials to be held accountable for their performance with respect to project implementation”.

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