Back in the formative years of my career I had a supervisor who usually quipped that “delay defeats equity”. Recently, I have acquired another piece of academic wisdom from a concept called the right picture or Multi-Stakeholder processes.
Such was the sense of trepidation and utter disgust that most Malawians felt at the news that the designated investor in the Monkey Bay Hotel project had pulled the plug and called it quits.
Not that this announcement came as a surprise, no. events precedent to the announcement spoke for themselves that there was a potent dosage of disaster in the brew and that it was not a question of ‘if’ the designated investor was going to call time on the planned project but ‘when.’
The task of this discourse is to reflect on the two concepts above and relate them to how things should have been handled otherwise.
First is the concept of urgency. Matters of finance and investments, especially in cases of significant magnitudes of capital expenditure, are time-scope sensitive. This is because of the Time Value of Money concept in economics which says, what K435 (roughly $ 1) can buy today is more than what it will buy tomorrow.
The implication of the time Value of Money is that the longer it takes an investor to deliver and complete a project, the higher the likelihood that the project will cost excessively beyond the budget at conception. Such excesses above the planned spend, called cost overruns in construction and long gestation projects, are every project sponsor’s nightmare because they always end in disaster.
Either, the investor has to dig deeper into debt or the project ends up being abandoned altogether If the project is not abandoned, excessive time delays always end up with a significantly scaled down outcome. In the past 20 years Malawi has seen an example of such in a failed Hotel Project in Blantyre
On this point, to most keen observers, the Monkey Bay Hotel project was taking too long to get started. We rightly had serious anxieties as to whether indeed it would see the light of day. There were, therefore, clear and evident signs of stunted progress to the extent that the abandonment simply sounded déjà vu.
The foregoing is the reason it is imperative that every thread of effort must be invested in streamlining the bureaucracy of getting such major projects cleared for takeoff.
In advocating this streamlining, it must be made clear here that no one is advocating a short-circuiting of the steps precedent and prerequisite to ensuring that all necessary safeguards are given diligent attention to ensure that the project does not become a Frankenstein because of its unforeseen and unintended consequences, no.
The necessary social, environmental, cultural and economic impact assessments have to be done, but in a diligent and purposeful manner free of the usual misguided nuances resplendent in rent seeking tendencies that most offices responsible for such processes employ in order to create avenues for their palms to be illegally oiled.
To achieve such levels of efficiencies we need, among the key things, to transform our processes, beef up our structures and institutions, empower the right people with responsibilities and accountabilities, articulate the ground rules in a thoroughly transparent manner with clear line of sight so that when the investor embarks on a project, they are clear upfront what to expect and that once they are in the fray, no surprises are thrown in their way.
My understanding is that if we are looking for inspiration in this area, we can borrow a leaf from Paul Kagame and his comrades and since we have courted Kagame of late, one can only hope that his sense of purposeful urgency will rub off on us.
For the Monkey Bay hotel project, one of the failures gleaned from talking to the local folks, including village chiefs within the Nankumba Peninsula is that there was a monumental failure by those tasked with the management of the process to effectively engage the stakeholders in a manner that ensured positive desired outcomes.
To ensure effective stakeholder engagement, people tasked with change management responsibilities need to employ the rich picture concept, among other tools of consultative discourse. From a Systems Thinking perspective, the rich picture is predicated on the appreciation that in every process or endeavour, especially where new initiatives, developments and changes will occur, the people responsible for managing the process must exhaustively and widely engage all the stakeholders
Hopefully, there is room for us to make amends and salvage this deal. For the future, let us learn to avoid such economically debilitating lapses.