Lamin Darboe
Leicester
UK

The president’s speech at the Independence Stadium on the 53rd independence anniversary, gave us great comfort that something is being done to address the dismal infrastructural and economic sectors of the economy. The speech was well written and evinced well thought out policies which mapped out the strategic vision, goals and objectives expected to deliver socio-economic transformation of the Gambia.

A transformation that will put our nation on a pedestal of sustainable economic development akin to the strides achieved by Rwanda within a short time. I hope and pray it is implemented successfully.

This is not the first time the leadership of Gambia as a nation, visualised a strategic model to achieve socio-economic development. Under the Jawara regime, we had a rolling 5-Year development plans and at the peak of its administration, Bakary Bunja Darboe’s came up with his acclaimed Singapore Dream. A dream premised on public-private partnership and an avid commitment to achieve internal efficiency. Even under the dictatorial regime of Dr Yaya Jammeh, he managed to dream of a grandiose project of Vision 2020.

My desire is not to delve into the achievements and failures of the previous dreams or strategic projects, suffice is to draw attention and summon the minds of our technocrats and bureaucrats, the major strategic operators who will inherently manage, monitor and control the National Development Plan or strategy.

The National Development Plan (NDP) is indeed a great strategic document, creative, feasible with attainable goals. What is motivating about it is that, it is an indigenous and organic project, not imposed by some external Financial institution. It is therefore, our own construct, thus challenges the patriotism of Gambians to be vehicles of their development aspirations in many areas. It is a deed a challenging document that map out exactly its goals and objectives from strategic level of Government to the tactical level in the Ministries and Departments.

I mean from executive (cabinet) to government employees directly involved in day to day activities. It also stated vividly what need to be done and how it should be done. Succinctly, it mapped out clearly the: Why, What, How. When, Where:
WHY-the key question and goal that should capture aspirations and a focus, motivation and point of reference.
WHAT-the goal, objectives and tactics
HOW-how is the strategy going to be achieved, actors, performance measures/Bench mark, resources-human finance, technology, IT
WHEN-time frame, performance measurement cycle, re-evaluation, review
WHERE-control centres, who is who, who to report to who and reporting process and procedures,

Strategic Concepts of Development Plans, Strategies and Visions
There are varying thoughts in the academic world of Business strategy and sciences of strategic graft delineated to strategy as a Science and strategy as an Art. Each I guess provide an insight, a perspective or even a personal experience.

First, Chambers dictionary which explained…strategy as…knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested. Systemised and brought under general principles.

This explanation implies strategic grafting as a science underpinned by systematic approach, a procedure, logical analysis and evaluation system…I surmise a feedback system based on the system of Closed and Open loop System evaluation, Positive and negative feedback monitoring. These are concept which need further explanation however in my mind, my primary audience don’t need any exegesis on these concepts.

According to Mintzberg, (Rise and fall of strategic planning): …the basic premises of planning school of strategy is that….a strategic project must be controlled and as well as a formalised and elaborate, decomposed into distinct steps. Each delineated by checklist and supported by techniques.

A Strategic project, vision, dream etc as an Art presupposes creativity, intuition, experience, flair and hunch,……is ardently supported by other cotemporally strategic thinkers…a chief proponent in the person of K Ohmae.

In his ubiquitous book, (The mind of a strategist), he propositioned:‘In strategic thinking, one first seeks a clear understanding of the particular character of a situation and then make the fullest possible use of human  brainpower to restructure the elements in the most advantageous way.

The key is insight especially for a leader. President Barrow need to have a “helicopter view” of the entire landscape of the NDP and if possible have access to an executive information system to drill down into the plethora of data or information on performance measurements, successes and bottlenecks in real time. If he cannot, he must have a monitoring team that will provide summary reports.

Strategy as an Art herald creativity, partly intuitive. And often disruptive to the status quo which in my understanding is the key risk which the NDP will face, added to this risk is the intransigence, opposition and sabotage by still Yaya loyalists.

To conclude the theoretical concepts, let me state these: The combination of the Art and Science of strategic plans or projects like NDP, is a difficult concept but one which has merit. Strategic development planning as a concept, seems, on the one hand to require an idiosyncratic mode of thinking ( meaning inducing personal flair and experience), flexibility, adaptive systems and creative inputs, but on the other hands, sticking to the routine of policy and procedure, the determination and use of rules and regulation, risk profiles and science-based techniques like Risk-based management ( which I will endeavour to explain in common man language) Ohmae said, the two do not easily integrate and there is danger of one bourgeoning the other with too high premium being placed on creative input/thinking at the expense of reasoned analysis.

The key is insight especially for a leader. President Barrow need to have a “helicopter view” of the entire landscape of the NDP and if possible have access to an executive information system to drill down into the plethora of data or information on performance measurements, successes and bottlenecks in real time. If he cannot, he must have a monitoring team that will provide summary reports.

Marriage of Concept and Practicalisation of NDP
One might be tempted to ask, why all these conceptual blouahaha. Concept is bedrock of rationalisation, provide understanding of different variables, provide a framework, coherence and identify scenarios and risk associated with a project, a plan or a vision.

Now let us see the sync between concept and reality in the light of our national development plan. Wielding grandiose concepts alone is insufficient without inducing practical narratives that matters in real world. They say between theory and practice is a similitude of chalk and cheese. This is because, phenomena and events in the real world do not always fit a linear model. |Hence according to K Ohmae, the most reliable means of dissecting a situation into its constituent parts and resembling them in a desired pattern is not a step-by-step methodology such as system analysis.

My thoughts on the NDP is not an academic review or an academic paper as some distractors might be spiced to lament. That would entail detailed review of nuts and bolts, the meat and bones; the evaluation of different ministerial strategies to obtain evidence of strategic FIT. A Strategic Fit evaluation, will capture detail information on how a compartmentalised strategy like NDP, consisting of different compartments in form of ministries and departments gel together to provide a synchronised rhythm so that there is no consequential sub-optimisation. That is when different facets of the strategy work in a counterproductive fashion leading to failure just like Yaya Jameh’s Vision 2020.

What caught my eye were the key success factors (KSF) which were salient and properly carved out so that implementation has a clear outlook. The KSFs are the benchmarks to measure success of the plan over the period of the plan.

It is not a perfect document and I suspect it does not assume prefect implementation and 100% success.
In any project especially national projects, unforeseen problems, changes in the variables (economic, political, social) and bottlenecks should not be discounted. They should be factored in the original strategic model, alternative plans should be available, clearly documented and explained so that there is smooth re-orientation to prevent derailment of the overall plan.

This is akin to risk-based management where contingent plans are available to ameliorate the impact of unforeseen variables. First, potential risks and scenarios are produced and evaluated so that, in the event they happen, there is a clear and pragmatic course of action to address the problems.

Also important is sensitivity analyses which is part of risk evaluation. It tries to assess the impact of defined changes on the project goals and objectives. Example, what will be the impact of 10% shortfall in funding or say 5% shortfall in rainfall or tourist inflow.

Stakeholder Involvement
The document need proper marketing to sell it to all stakeholders especially the people of the Gambia; not only to capture their imagination but to make them part of the plan. The fact that the plan was conceived and penned by the government technocracy however, all manifestations, it is the people’s plan for socio-economic salvation. They should be part and parcel of it so that in the unlikely event of failure it is not seen as the government that failed but the whole country failed.It should also be sold to civil servants of the individual ministries especially those who will be directly involved in the operationalisation and implementation.

Gambian intellectuals especially those in the diaspora should be engaged to be part of the plan, to own it, in some way to feel that they are valued partners in the implementation of the plan. That their inputs in term of ideas, skills and expertise, connections and other resources are critically needed and valued. It is noteworthy to state that, the diasporas remittances play a crucial role in providing much needed foreign currency, the sponsors of many local projects and perhaps the key stakeholders in many businesses in the Gambia. E.g. building materials businesses.

The implementation committee which is officed at the office of the president should cast their out-look far and wide by instituting a media presence that will provide timely and reliable information about the developments of the plan and invites views across the board. It is also important to have a discussion space or wall where people will exchange ideas or suggestions which can be mined to augments or adjust the plan to give it a renewed impetus.

There should be encouragement given to whistle blowers who can document and report about unhelpful activities, malfeasance, mal-administration if they strongly feel that is undermining the successful implementation.
This is quite sensitive and invariably require tactful management because our people has natural penchance for rumour or radio Kankang which by default is devoid of evidence.

Project implementation is a marriage of art and science. A science would have specific parameters and strict modus operandi while an art presupposes flexible approach which factors a whole ranges of variables that can impact on a project. As an Art, it encapsulates variables like the motivations, personalities, aspirations of operators. It factors the many combinations of alternative ways of achieving the same results albeit the most efficient, effective and economic actions.

Project planning and strategy espouse an art because projects as plans are human crafted and human operationalise therefore its success and failures are inherently influenced by vicissitudes and vulnerabilities in our life. Consequently, it requires excellent management skills to manoeuvre between contesting variables to achieve positives synergies; as the Rastafarian will put colourfully, the positive vibrations are positively channelled. In the same vein negative synergy or vibrations are monitored and enfeebled to minimize their impacts.

Importance of effectives monitoring-Extra and Intra-ministerial steering and Monitoring groups
An impressive observation is operational performance measurement. The strategic and tactical level targets are rigorously and clearly stated however I have the feeling that their operational level performance measures are not distinctively documented. The measurable targets on monthly, bi-annually or annually should be made clear to the operational level Departments. There should be reporting systems and procedures in place to ensure performance is timely measured and reported along the chain of command.

Gambian intellectuals especially those in the diaspora should be engaged to be part of the plan, to own it, in some way to feel that they are valued partners in the implementation of the plan. That their inputs in term of ideas, skills and expertise, connections and other resources are critically needed and valued. It is noteworthy to state that, the diasporas remittances play a crucial role in providing much needed foreign currency, the sponsors of many local projects and perhaps the key stakeholders in many businesses in the Gambia. E.g. building materials businesses.

The statistics department and Ministry of Finance data collation and analyses department should be adequately resourced with right calibres of staff in terms of IT, data mining skills and experience to meet the reporting requirement. They should properly collate and analyses performance information on timely and cost-effective manner to ensure managers react to problems effectively.

Government need Internal Efficiency
The NDP seem to be scarce on how it will be substantially financed itself noting that the new government inherited huge budgetary and fiscal deficit. I don’t think donor grants and financial aid alone can finance the NDP.

A progressive government cannot rely on external funding in forms of loans and grants to steer the engine of meaningful long-term social-economic development. It should create an effective and efficient mechanism to create a rich internal revenue base which is properly structured and implemented with the use of modern technology. I guess that is what the current Finance minister Mr Amadou Sanneh had in mind, to establish a modern IT infrastructure that will sustain a modern internet broadband system and other technical infrastructure for a modernised economic and revenue collection system. His effort had generated some controversy which led to the unfortunate fracas between the speaker, Mariama Denton and Halifa Sallah.

A key obstacle I surmise which has the potential for rendering the NDP unachievable is official corruption. I mean corruption from the classroom teachers to the ministers. It need to be tackled head on and the President has to set the scene and set an unblemished example.

First, he should declare his assets and urge all ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Directors and  other high level officials to do the same. They should weed out wastage of resources in form of expensive travel, extravagant transport/car for senior officials.The ministry of finance should take centre stage as it has a vital role, almost an existential role to play to ensure Gambia run a near balance budget within 5 years.

This is achievable if government budgetary waste is curbed. It is obvious that the clamp down on official corruption is very problematic and politically sensitive especially in a transition period. Transition from an entrenched dictatorship with its network of entrenched operators to nascent democracy full of expectations.

Attitude change in the civil service and indeed the parastatals is sacrosanct to a National development Plan. The entrenched notion that “its government property, no one owns it” or as Babung Fatty once put it in mandinka  ” faafa la nyo moobey ta” ( meaning Mr X maize belong to the everyone and no one). The insinuation is that everyone is at liberty to misuse it.

Overhaul and Modernisation of the Tax and Revenue System
Of overwhelming importance, is the overhauls of the tax system which at this juncture is quite porous. A large number of small businesses which were the engine of growth in many countries in the developed world like the UK, are the biggest source of employment. However, in all those countries, small businesses were properly registered and administered for tax purposes. In the Gambia the opposite is true.

The overwhelming majority of small businesses are not registered for tax purposes and I will be surprised if the Revenue department or Ministry of Finance has a register of all the small businesses in the entire country.
How many tailors, carpenters, electricians, masonry are not registered and pay no tax yet could earn up to D100,000 a year. Many small businesses like shops, bakers, fitters or mechanics earn more than ministers yet are not registered for tax and they don’t pay a penny for tax in the whole of their existence. Many of the people who own these type of small businesses come from the sub-region and easily transport their revenues to their countries of origin.

Establishing a Proper Financial Control System
If I were the Finance Minister these four areas including proper control of project finances will be my key focus. That is what we call risk-based approach in auditing and regulatory control however we can call it here as, maximal financial return approach for expedience. It means resources are deployed in areas where much impact can be realised in the economy.

Economy, efficiency and effectiveness is the key evaluation criteria and all project should meet the 3Es plus public utility to be funded. Being Project manager is the most contested position in the Gambia, why?, it is simply because by the time the project ends, often in failure, they become filthy rich.

Parastatal Reform
Government has to tap internal resources by restructuring the parastatals ensure they are fit for purpose. In the last 22 years of Jammeh misrule, parastatal executives, managers and indeed their boards of governors had allowed themselves to be exploited as cash cows in way that exhibited abdication of executive functionality. The board of governors failed miserably in their oversight and have colluded in many ways, in the ransack of the meagre resources by Jammeh regime.The current government should institute a commission to look into performance agreement with the aim of restructuring and re-orientation of parastatals to ensure that they are prepared to be more efficient and effective.

To ensure:

  •  There is strong board of governors with the right skills and experience to give strategic direction and resources to achieve objectives
  • That parastatals remain focussed and attuned to their partnership arrangement with the government to promote/accelerate economic growth and development that will drive the socio-economic transformation of our country.
  • That the management have the focus and strategic clarity, strong human resources and institutional capacity to attract and retain the skill sets needed to drive performance.
    That there is adequate performance management framework that effectively link performance of Parastatals to national development goals.
  • Support efforts aimed improving delivery of services, including meeting basic needs of citizens. Creating employment opportunities in various sectors
    To provide avenue to build institutional capacity and capability in terms of management, technical and IT skills

Most of the parastatals have highly competent human resource base and are predisposed to produce good results. The only limiting factor I guess was solid commitment and patriotic motivations. Managers should see themselves as agents of the people of the Gambia not agents of the president.

Jammeh succeeded in milking the parastatals because there was ready reservoirs of professionals willing to do his bidding even if that means compromising their professional ethics and conscience. If few mangers said no to Jammeh and resigned instead of aiding his sinister enterprise, he wouldn’t have succeeded the way he did.

Managers need to be adequately remunerated and motivated by creating incentives to excel
A parastatal like GPA has had great transformation during the Jammeh era and was one of the key cash cows Jammeh exploited to the maximum. That institution was stuffed with Jammeh sycophants most whom lacked the educational training and skill competence required to effectively carry out their duties.

To a casual observer GPA has an encumbering bureaucracy and the level of political meddling is stifling it progress. It is also evident to a casual observer that there is little synergy between GPA core competence and Ferry services. Ferry services should be under a new Parastatal as in the Jawara era like GPTC so that all transport services will be run by a dedicated management.

Conclusion
The Gambia as progressive nation cannot afford to ski on a wave of complacency, tribal politics and an unchecked corruption. We cannot afford to propagate same inefficient and bureaucratic financial system, the mis-adventurous development projects perpetrated under the Jawara regime, perfected under the Jammeh and now being repackaged in this new nymphic government.

The president need to take the bull by the worn and conduct a wide ranging reform of all government institutions and parastatals to ensure to they are fit for purpose in the delivery of excellent services in accordance with their mandate.

The NDP is an excellent attempt to focus the government attention to some strategic goals and objectives which are achievable within the designated time frame. It will provide its policies package a framework and coherence to ensure its activities are not untargeted and premised on fire-fight reactions.

The success of NDP will emanate from the success of its implementation and the stewardship of our leaders. The leadership should show commitment and sense of direction and they must be seen to be exemplary role model themselves in terms of honesty, political propriety and good governance.

Lamin Darboe
Leicester
UK