Thursday, August 6, 2020

Sloppy project implementation hurts economy

Botswana suffers from the malaise of poor project implementation, argues Professor Emmanuel Botlhale, a public finance expert and University of Botswana senior lecturer in a research paper titled “Enhancing public project implementation in Botswana during the NDP 11 period” published in August 2017.

Poor project implementation in Botswana dates years back and all the past presidents, from Seretse Khama through to Ian Khama extending to Masisi have raised their concerns on this topical issue of poor project implementation.

In 1995, then President Sir Ketumile Masire stated that “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”. Masire’s successor, Festus Mogae similarly worried about the issue culminating with the recalling of vice-president Ian Khama from a 12 month sabbatical leave in August 2000 to oversee public projects implementation.

Mogae put it succinctly saying that he recalled his vice “so that he could direct and coordinate ministries to ensure efficiency and expeditious implementation of government projects and programmes”.

Delivering the opening address at the 12th National Business Council in October 2012, President Ian Khama has this to say, “Our policy framework is good, but implementation continues to be a challenge on account of the regulatory framework and rigorous processes. This, I believe, calls for Government to review the existing processes in order to expedite service delivery if we are to succeed min o9ur economic diversification efforts”.

According Prof Botlhale, all things being equal, successful projects implementation would ensure projects success and “it is vital that issues of improved public project implementation be brought to the fore of public discourse”. At a minimum, a successful project must be implemented as per the Project Management Triangle of ‘scope’ (quality), ‘time’ and ‘cost/budget’.

The research paper acknowledges that despite guidance in terms of successful project implementation factors, available literature is replete with instances of unsuccessful project implementation in both developed and developing countries.  In the main, poor project implementation results in time and budget (cost) overruns and poor-quality products.

Prof Botlhale decries that after Khama was recalled from sabbatical to oversee projects implementation, no performance targets were established, and there was therefore no tool to judge the performance of the public projects’ implementation czar. “However, with the benefit of hindsight, it can be believably argued that nothing significantly changed regarding public projects implementation. That is, public project implementation was still very problematic”, posits Prof Botlhale.

In his research, Prof Botlhale concludes that efforts to enhance project implementation have not yet borne commendable fruit. Therefore, as stated by then Minister of Finance and Development Planning when he delivered the 2015/16 budget Speech on O2 February 2015, “during NDP 10, the development budget has been under-spent by an average of 17.3 percent for the years 2011/12 through 2013/14 due to delayed project implementation”.

“In a related vein, midterm review of NDP 10 (ministry of Finance and Development Planning 2012) shows that there are project implementation challenges. In specific reference to the public sector 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 site and late completion of projects”, laments Prof Botlhale adding that “there is need to revamp the architecture of public project implementation in Botswana”.

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

In Prof Botlhale’s view, implementation is the most important phase of project implementation. Therefore, utmost attention must be paid to the implementation phase of the project. Amongst others, successful project implementation is predicated on the application of the science of professional project management, complete with trained (career) project managers.

Prof Botlhale points out two serious problems he has realized as challenges on the government side, being namely; lack of an approach to professional project management and; preponderant use of accidental project managers. “Project management is not accidental; it is something that is purposeful. Therefore, there is 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 the engineers and senior public servants who just happen to one occupying certain managerial position, warned Prof Botlhale.

The public expert during his research found that government was losing billions of Pula because of amongst others, negligence, but only a few are held to account for these losses. Hence the time is nigh for public officials to be held accountable for their performance with respect to project implementation. He also advises that if is vital that the Department of Building and Engineering Services (DBES) is adequately resourced and capacitated despite challenges of fiscal restructures post 2008 global recession.

In conclusion, Prof Botlhale advises that given a constrained revenue envelope post 2008, “it is imperative that things should be done differently. Thus, the case for improved public project implementation should be apparent to all. Amongst others, this calls for the adoption of professional project management implementation and increased responsibility for results and non-results by public managers. Doing so will ensure that NDPs are actualized and, therefore, translated into tangibles such as goods and services”.

In yet another research paper on “An analysis of Botswana’s implementation challenges”, the authors, Gape Koboyakgosi and Keneilwe Marata conclude 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 two authors ask critical question on what are the nature of Botswana implementation challenges, and how do these challenges relate to public policy theories? While there appears to be a consensus that implementation challenges have become more pronounced in Botswana, there is no explanation for this problem.

Until recently, lack of finance, which is one of the often-cited implementation challenges is likely to gain prominence with the decline of mineral revenues. However, it is also reckoned that lack of commitment to selected policy choices is emerging as an important challenge for project implementation.

“Since the run of the new millennium, the government has increasingly created and adopted policies to which it does not adhere. Policy commitment assists in building state credibility (when dealing with outsiders such as investors), and certainty among the locals” it is argued.

The authors also bemoan that since the run of the century, Botswana rankings in certain policy areas, particularly those concerned with industrial development, diversification, and competitiveness and doing business have been declining steadily. Initially adept at reforming her political, economic legal and other frameworks, Botswana reluctance to reform is becoming more pronounced according the paper authors.

Like Prof Botlhale, Koboyakgosi and Marata also call for implementation needs to be optimized and disappointingly, the number of emerging implementation challenges serve as strong bottlenecks to optimal policy implementation.

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