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The Importance of Development Planning in shaping our Development: Hon. Tom K Alweendo

Public Lecture by Honourable Tom K Alweendo (MP), Namibia University Science Technology, 16 May 2017


Tonight, I will be concerned more with development planning as a tool for shaping and accelerating our development goals. Development planning is a multifaceted and cross-cutting undertaking and it plays an important role in shaping our development goals and priorities.
Development planning is about coming up with well-researched and well-reasoned plans that prioritise and synchronise activities, given the scarce resources at our disposal.
The aim of any national development plan should therefore be to utilise the available resources more effectively to achieve well-defined objectives.

History of Development Planning in Africa

But before I go into the specifics of development planning, allow me to give you a brief history of development planning on the African continent. Development planning in Africa has a long and mixed history, marked with ups and downs. Over the decades since the first African countries gained political independence, there has been various approaches to development planning.
In the 1960s at least 32 African countries had national development plans. During this time development planning across the continent was characterised by centralised planning, usually consisting of five-year planning and was often times inspired and managed by expatriates. During this period bilateral and multilateral aid agencies provided technical assistance for preparing the plans.
In most cases these development plans were comprehensive and talked about what seemed to be the right things to do in order to develop those economies. However, the biggest shortcoming in the process was that there was no local ownership of the process. That resulted in a weak political and civic support, thereby rendering the development plans largely ineffective. In addition the institutional and bureaucratic setup were rather weak and ineffective.
Given the fact that the development plans were written with the technical assistance, usually from IMF and the World Bank, the plans were naturally characterised by the wholesale affirmation of the neoliberal view of how an economy functions. The prevalent economic wisdom about economic development then has been that sustainable economic development is only possible when a country follows free-market economic policies – where the state plays a minimal role in economic development and leaves the rest to the private sector.
The premise behind this proposition was that Governments inherently lack the necessary information and know-how to make informed economic decisions. It was also argued that decisions that are good for businesses are necessarily good for the economy and therefore for the general public.
Due to all these shortcomings the development plans failed to yield the desired results and most of the African economies faltered. The economies needed the injection of fresh capital to invest in the productive capacities of the economies. Given that most of the African countries lacked the required capital, they turned to the IMF and World Bank. As part of the assistance, the IMF and World Bank came up with what was then known as structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). These were economic policies dictated by the IMF and the World Bank as conditions for loans.
Suffice here is to say that the structural adjustment programs did not work either. Many African countries became heavily indebted as a result. In the 1980s and 90s the average economic growth in Sub Sahara Africa averaged 2%. Coupled with the failure to generate the desired economic growth, the social cost was also severe. The resultant fiscal constraints compromised social service delivery and human capital development with devastating consequences.
In the early 2000s there was a drive to reverse the negative social impact of the structural adjustment programs. The SAPs were replaced by yet another IMF/World Bank invention. This time around they came up with what they called the Poverty Reduction Strategies – making poverty reduction as a condition for debt relief. Unlike the SAPs, the Poverty Reduction Strategies were underpinned by the principle of consultations and broad ownership. But the poverty reduction strategies also had their challenges. The disproportional focus on social welfare meant that productive sectors were largely overlooked, which raised doubts regarding the sustainability of the poverty fighting agenda.

Importance of Institutions

While the history of development planning on the continent had mixed results, one important lesson stood out. This is that effective and strong institutions are important in the development process.
There is a number of researches done that prove that countries fail or succeed depending on the effectiveness of their institutions. In other words, if you want to predict whether a country will succeed in creating prosperity for its people or not, just look at its institutions. Does the country have strong legal institutions? Are the administrative institutions geared toward effective service delivery? Does the country have institutions that provide information and data that is needed for effective planning? If not, it will be rather difficult for such a country to succeed.
Unfortunately in many of our countries, we still have a number of weak institutions that are only serving small segments of society or institutions used for the enrichment of a few. It is thus important for us to recognize that we will be better served in our development planning process when we embrace institutions that are inclusive; institutions that are there to serve the interest of society.
Speaking of institutions, I would like to say a few words about the institutions I represent – the National Planning Commission. The NPC is not a Ministry like other ministries such as Mines & Energy or Land Reform that are created by the Head of State. The NPC a Constitutional body established in the Office of the President in terms of article 129 of our Constitution. In other words the NPC is an extension of the Presidency and its responsibility is to “plan the priorities and direction of national development”. As the institution tasked with the responsibility of spearheading and coordinating national development and economic planning, the NPC has worked and continues to work closely with all sectors as well as state-owned enterprises to ensure a coordinated approach to national development.

Namibia’s Development This Far

When talking about development planning it is always important to note where we are coming from. There is a saying that “you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been” is quite relevant here.
Since our independence more than 27 years ago, our development focus can be classified in three main strategies. The first strategy was to invest in the people. Given our past history of segregated development, we needed to invest in the education and health of the people.

It is therefore not a coincidence that since independence our budgetary allocation to both education and health has been the highest in the SADC region. In our 2017/18 budget, N$21.6bn (31.5%) has been allocated to education and health.
The second strategy was to nurture a value of a caring society. Through this strategy over the years the Government has been providing a social safety net to the most vulnerable members of our society. These are the elderly, the orphans and those living with disabilities. Here again, in our 2017/18 budget N$3.3bn (4.8%) has been allocated to this strategy, where N$2.4bn has been allocated to old age pension. The third strategy was that of investing in economic infrastructure. Today our economic infrastructure compares relatively well in the SADC region.

There is no doubt that the three strategies I just described have produced some tangible results – such that we are now classified as an upper-middle income country. Today Namibia is certainly a better place to live in for most Namibians than it was before. For example our human development index as compiled by the UNDP has been improving over the years. The index was created by the UN to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the true development of a country, and not only economic growth.
I must hasten to add that our achievements that I have described above are not to say that we have reached the pinnacle of our development. It is not to say that we no longer have areas of our development where more need to be done. There is no denying the fact that our economy still need to grow at a higher level and be more inclusive; that we need to create more employment opportunities, especially for the young people, where the unemployment rate is still too high at 28%; that income generated from our economy still need to be shared on a more equitable basis among members of our society, with the Gini-coefficient still high at 0.57; that we still need to pay particular attention to the quality of our education system where innovation is our core focus.

These are some of the developmental issues that still require our urgent attention. However, I still believe that it is important to talk about our past achievement in order to remind ourselves that we are capable of achieving great things. It is to say to ourselves that no challenge is too big to overcome provided that we are prepared and committed to confront and overcome such challenges. When faced by such challenges, we don’t have the luxury of a business-as-usual approach. We no longer have the option to tinker around the edges of our development challenges. Our approach need to change from that of preservation and appeasement to that of transformational – an approach where the status quo is simply no longer an option.
We therefore still have a journey ahead of us – a journey during which some of us might become fearful and start to despair. Already there are some among us who have become cynical about our ability to achieve great things. Their starting point now is to always remind us of what has not happened and conveniently remain silent about what has happened. For them it is to emphasize failure and disregard success. Instead of recognizing the greatness in our ability to make things happen, they would rather concentrate on what has failed.

It is almost as if they have forgotten that the world successes and breakthroughs that we are all so proud of today – such as the information communication technology that most of us today cannot do without – were not achieved by those who were afraid to fail. The simple truth is that no great success was ever achieved without failure. We ought therefore to look at our failure as a necessary stepping stone to achieving our dreams – and not as a deterrent not to try again. On our journey the real solutions can therefore not come from the cynics among us, but from those that are prepared to face the uncertainty of the future and willing to overcome their fear of failure.

Broad Ownership in Pursuit of Our Goals

Any development plan is likely to achieve its goals only when there is a broad ownership of the plan. We have also learned that a plan is an effective development tool only when the potential beneficiaries have helped to shape such a plan. It is therefore important for us to forge a true partnership in our development planning process.
I therefore want us to recognise the importance of an effective partnership between the Governments, the private sector as well as with the citizens. Too often when the question is asked whether we are likely to achieve Vision 2030, the usual assumption is that the Government is either failing or has failed all together. It cannot be correct to think that it is only the Government that can or must solve all the developmental challenges facing us as a country. Yes, the Government has certain responsibilities and obligations to fulfil; but so do all of us.
Government relies on business to invest and grow the economy that is able to generate taxes that the Government needs. Business in turn depends on the Government to create the regulatory environment that is conducive to doing business. It is only through this partnership that the much needed trust can be created so that the different interests of Government and the private sector can be harmonized.
It is also true that our development planning will yield superior results when we as citizens are involved; when we take active participation in the process. Many a time we do not get involved and our excuse is that we believe we are too insignificant to make a difference. We believe that whatever I can do cannot have a meaningful impact on what must change. Yes, as an individual I might be too small and insignificant. But imagine what the power of many can do – what we together can do. There is no doubt that citizens bring value to our development planning process. What needs to happen more is to provide them with the necessary space and institutional support to participate in the country’s development discourse.
Thus we need a true partnership among all stakeholders that is based on mutual trust and rooted in our collective desire to prosper as a nation. We need to view our achievement and challenges as our collective responsibility and not that of the Government alone. Both Government and the private sector – and eventually society – have everything to lose in equal measure if we do not succeed in our developmental efforts.

Importance of Development Planning

The importance of planning is not always obvious to everyone. In fact there is a view that suggests that only developing countries have development plans. In fact developed countries will tell you that they do not do development planning; they tell you that they just somehow do what they need to do without a plan. However, they all have development plans except that they might be referring to them by different names.
When you have a plan – and if it is a good plan – your objectives and goals are much clearer for all to see and appreciate. This is especially important for those that are required to implement the plan. It provides them with a clear direction for all of them to direct their efforts towards the same objectives. Planning also reduces the risks of uncertainty. We are now living in a world that is more uncertain than before; a world where the environment in which we operate keep changing around us. Having a good plan will therefore be helpful in anticipating future risks.
Without a plan that serves as a compass, we are likely to be all over the place and in the process creating unnecessary overlaps and wasting scarce resources. A good plan will guide us to answer questions such as what is to be done; why must it be done; where will it be done; when will it be done; and who will do it. These are important questions to be decided upon in the plan to avoid overlapping and wastage of resources.
It is also the case that development planning provides certainty and improves the quality of decision-making process for all parts of government – from national, regional to local governments – and for the private sector.

Good Governance and Accountability

There is another important factor that impacts development planning. I am here referring to the importance of effective governance when it comes to development planning. Without effective governance, our development agenda will be less successful. Effective governance is the bedrock of sustainable development.
How we decide on how best to utilise our resources, or what to prioritise with the limited resources, or the order in which to implement our priorities is a function of effective governance. Effective governance is therefore part of the necessary infrastructure needed to achieve the goals and objectives contained in any development plan.
The World Bank defines good governance as the “manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development”. In our context, the concept of good governance should go further to include the improvement in the processes of decision-making and implementation to transform the lives of the people.

Development in its simplest form is about improving for the people’s standard of living. We should, however, also be careful not to only think about development as a tool for improving the physical and material conditions of the citizens, but also as means to ensuring people’s freedoms – the freedom to choose and lead the lives that people have reason to value. There exist thus a clear relationship between good governance and development.

Effcetive Implementation

It is said that a good plan is only as good as its implementation – and without plan implementation it is just as good as not having a plan at all. Evidence-based monitoring and evaluation is therefore a cornerstone of our development planning and implementation. It is imperative that we continuously track our progress, including identifying unexpected circumstances and problems that might hinder our progress.
In order for us to ensure effective implementation of our plans, I again want to emphasize the importance of a comprehensive ownership of the plan. The plan can only be fully implemented when it enjoys the support from all the stakeholders that will be impacted by the plan implementation.


Allow me to say a few words about our next five-year development plan, NDP5. As many of you might be aware, our fourth national development plan, NDP4, came to an end at the end of March. We are about to launch our next national development plan, which is a product of an exhaustive consultation process with a wide variety of stakeholders, both within the Government and outside the Government. The process was also informed by global, continental, regional and national development frameworks. Throughout the process it has been our desire, as planners, that at the end of the process we have a plan that is relevant, realistic, practical and most of all, a plan which Namibians will identify with, support and work towards making a reality.
The plan covers four key goals, namely to:
• Achieve Inclusive, Sustainable and Equitable Economic Growth,
• Build Capable and Healthy Human Resources;
• Ensure Sustainable Environment and Enhance Resilience; and
• Promote Good Governance through Effective Institutions
The main strategies to deliver the objectives of NDP5 includes increasing our investment in infrastructure development; increasing productivity in agriculture, especially for smallholder farmers; investing in quality technical skills development; improving value addition; and achieving industrial development through local procurement.
We are expecting the plan to be officially launched by His Excellency, President Geingob, on the 31st May 2017.

Tom Alweendo
WINDHOEK, 11 February 2016 – Minister and Director General of the National Planning Tom Alweendo.
(Photo by: Joseph Nekaya) NAMPA