On national plans and development

In 1998, the Government of Malawi came up with a long-term development framework that aimed at addressing issues pertaining to poverty by the year 2020 called Vision 2020.

Its mission statement asserts that, by the year 2020, Malawi as a nation will be secure, democratically mature, environmentally sustainable and self-reliant with equal opportunities for and participation by all; having social services, vibrant cultural, religious values, and being a technologically driven middle-income economy.

Vision 2020 also sets out a path for the country’s long-term development providing a framework for the government to prepare medium-term development plans such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy 2002-05 and the Growth and Development Strategy 2006-10 as well as national machinery for monitoring progress of the long-term strategy.

Nineteen years down the line, it has emerged the vision is unrealistic. In particular, realising that plan priorities were ignored in the allocation of funds as well as the slow implementation of the devolution process.

With regard to the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (2006-2011), its focus on poverty reduction and employment creation was quite tenuous and little progress has been made to address the challenges.

Besides, the monitoring and evaluation system was not only weak but also fragmented. Furthermore, poor baseline data complicated measurability of performance outcomes. Its successor, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (2011-2016) which contained 271 pages, 128 goals and 100 key indicators, failed to achieve its goal of reducing poverty owing to lack of political will to drive full implementation as well as its over-ambitious targets.

At the moment another national plan for development is in the pipeline. If the outcomes of the two development strategies are anything to go by, one fears that attaining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 is going to be another pipedream.

Having good plans is not enough. We need to accord ample attention to implementation phase if development is to be attained.

While national plans are critical to a nation’s development, sometimes they can be nothing more than just paper weights.

The issue is not just about planning, but whether a national design can be envisioned that is both relevant to the most important challenges facing our country and can be implemented by a visionary and determined leadership.

Lately, many countries including Malawi are under pressure to produce rapid growth. However, a dual approach is needed. A core planning team linked to specific delivery units ought to be in place.

Secondly, a sustained effort ought to be made to restructure, change the culture and train and educate the civil service. The realisation of this demands more than just a vision statement and team building exercises.

If the Malawi government sees a gap vis a ‘vis development programmes or issues to do with the monitoring of national programmes, it can engage the civil society. This would put the government on its toes and motivate it to deliver its promises.

Nevertheless, such an approach hinges on the willingness of government to engage in robust dialogue and the ability of the civil society organisations to provide an independent monitoring in order to achieve meaningful sustainable development.

A good example is Liberia where during her second term Ellen Johnson Sirleaf engaged the civil society in monitoring government programmes when the government formulated 150 plans in 2012.

For Malawi to achieve sustainable development there is need for leadership that should use democracy to instill a disciplined nationalism, explain the country’s development path and link it to SDGs instead of promoting nepotism and tribalism. n


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