George Washington, a former U.S President and military leader said in a speech during his reign that ‘Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.’
This statement lends credence to the need for parliaments which were originally established to limit the profligacy of the ruling powers. Whether by evolution, they have become less apt to limit the profligacy or not, the fact remains that governments must be kept in check. It is like regulating the regulator. The constitution remains a veritable tool that limits the powers and functions of a political entity. Another tool is the national development planning and budgeting employed to achieve the required order. Planning is crucial in all spheres of life whether for an individual, family unit, institution or corporate organization. For a government or governments, it is even more critical. How, for instance, can anybody know where he or she is going or what progress he or she is making or when he or she will arrive at the destination without a well articulated plan. National developing planning is undoubtedly the key instrument for promoting the rapid socio-economic development and in the process aiming to ensure significant improvement in the quality of lives and well-being of the people.
The issue here is not exactly about national development planning but about the political will to ensure its proper execution and implementation. The prevailing poor performance of governments in economic management in Nigeria has everything to do with the national development planning, which has for sometime been receiving declining or waning attention. Moreover, there has been ‘poor monitoring and evaluation of programmes and limited use of a balanced set of performance metrics, relating to inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes’. The ‘use of envelope system of budgeting has not helped much as agencies tended to spread resources thinly among several projects none of which is adequately funded’. Again, the evaluation of programmes is not centrally coordinated and therefore tend to be ad-hoc in nature.
The success of the big 25 or more emerging market economies such as Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Malaysia, Thailand, Morocco, Indonesia United Arab Emirate, on the other hand, lies not only in adequate national development planning but on effective implementation and execution of the plan. It is on the strength of this scenario that the Rtd Justice Alfa Belgore-led team that produced the brilliant Nigeria Vision 20:2020 report has insisted on using legal instruments to force the active participation, effective cooperation and collaboration of all tiers of government in actualizing the vision. The report enumerated other critical success factors which include discipline and efficiency in resource management that entails significant reduction in corruption and ensuring value for money through adopting comparable global standards in the cost of implementing projects. Nothing can be more ideal at this stage of development than institutionalizing monitoring and evaluation across all levels of government.
The Vision document from which the Plan derives insists on linking the annual budget to the National Development Plan; linking strategic goals and objectives directly to plans and budgets. It recommends the design of strategies to combat corruption and misappropriation of public funds and also clear articulation of key performance indicators, based on expected deliverables and outcomes.
A careful study of the approved First Vision 20:2020 Medium Term Implementation Plan (2010 – 2013) reveals a good understanding of the development priorities. It also indicates various steps taken in the past towards implementation and identified the weak links. The marked difference that has been made this time around is the tendency towards forcing action and a buy-in at all levels of government. Indeed, it is noteworthy and a welcome development that the Federal Executive Council has quickly and willingly approved a Bill on Development Planning and Project Continuity to be forwarded to the National Assembly for promulgation into law. There is no doubt indeed that the Bill, when enacted and properly executed would ensure the continuity of the implementation of the plan at both the Federal and sub-national levels.
The features of the Bill include making development planning compulsory for all tiers of Government in Nigeria and the maintenance of continuity in project implementation to expeditious conclusion. Others are that within three months after the enactment of the Act, Governments at level should provide short and medium term plans within the context of the NV20:2020 objectives. The Development Plans of the Governments are be published in gazette and forwarded to the National Planning Commission with the Governments maintaining a register of projects to be published at the beginning of each year. They will also produce quarterly reports on the implementation of the Plans. The provision of a penalty such as payment of fines, a term of imprisonment or withholding of federal funds/ allocation for any person or Government that fails to comply with the provisions of the Act is commendable even as projects will only be admitted into the budgetary process if they are in the approved plan.
The Development Plans, which are to be submitted to the Minister of National Planning to verify their compliance with the Vision 2020 objectives, are to state the economic priorities of the governments; the goal of the project and programme as a development initiative; the specific projects and programmes to be executed within the time frame; identify funding sources and implementation strategies; the financial sustainability of the programme or project and the environmental impact assessment of the project.
The provision in the Bill which makes it lawful for any aggrieved person to petition the content of any development plan, if the person is of the opinion that the programme or project ought not be a priority giving the enumerated circumstances such as costs or competing interests constitutes additional checks and adds impetus to successful implementation of the plan.
The whole concept of institutionalizing monitoring and evaluation across all levels of government is rather exciting and very encouraging. It gives hope that at last the answers to the prevailing development challenges of this great nation is in sight. The proposed Bill that articulates this idea should be the Nigerian media delight because it will give the ‘watchdogs’ the privilege of effective participation in the governance process. There is no doubt that the National Assembly will willingly and without much nudging, embrace the Bill and pass it into law without delay because the issue of Nigeria’s economic crisis is grave and a major concern to everyone.
‘…I think that we ought to stop talking about what a great country it is, and how terribly important it is to us and talk about what it would take for Nigeria to be that important and great. And that takes an enormous amount of commitment’. This simple remark by Princeton N. Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria at a December 2009 event in Rhode Island, U.S.A. highlights the importance and urgency of the Nigeria’s Economic Transformation Blueprint and by extension the Development Planning and Project Continuity Bill 2010. All hands must be on deck this time around.