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Why development plans matter

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With DD Phiri:

The philosophy behind development plans is crystallised in such maxims as ‘a people without a vision perish’—attributed to President Woodrow Wilson of the United States (US)—as well as the saying ‘if you do not know where you are going, any route will take you there’.

Development plans are usually of three types, short term, one to three years; medium, from five to 10 years and long term, 10 to 20 years. The nature and quality of resources a government has or is likely to have will determine the length of each development plan.

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One does not hear much about development plans in this country these days as one used to hear in the past. This is also the case in other countries.

Every leader at independence wanted to assure his followers that independence was worth struggling for. When H. Kamuzu Banda was president of this country, he used to say, at every public rally, that he had made his plans while he was to Gweru Prison in Zimbabwe. It was there that he had conceived the idea of giving Malawi a university of its own instead of making Malawi part owner of the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, of transferring the capital from Zomba to Lilongwe, extending the railway system and giving each district a secondary school of its own.

By the mid-1970s, he had implemented most of these projects, the most difficult of which was the transfer of the capital city from Zomba to Lilongwe because all the donors with whom he was well disposed, Britain, the US and Germany, did not support the idea.

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As a last resort, he had to approach the apartheid government of South Africa. It was thought this would alienate him from fellow African leaders. But when the new capital was built close to existing Lilongwe, Tanzania and Ivory Coast governments sent ministerial delegates to President Banda to find out how he had accomplished the project. The two countries later also transferred their capitals to new centres.

A development plan consists of projects to be undertaken during a given period. Very often, such plans contain more projects than the government can undertake. France at the end World War II introduced the type of plan which was not only imitated in Francophone but also Anglophone countries. It was called indicative planning. The plan indicated projects which were to be undertaken by the State and which private sector was expected, or invited, to take part in. The plans also indicated those projects which were to be undertaken with donor support or jointly by the State and the private sector.

In practice, development plans are statements of intent, not binding commitments. Only the annual plan is authorised by Parliament for implementation through annual budgets. In drawing up annual budgets, governments also indicate what funds will be required during the next two or three years. This is because few projects can be completed within one year. Building a hospital or university may take up to five or 10 years. Due to inflation trends, budget allocations may have to be revised every one of the coming years.

Most projects cannot be completed within a period of five and 10 years especially if they require inputs of foreign exchange from abroad. Bureau cracies determine how soon the project can be accomplished.

The needs of a country are unlimited but the resources for solving those needs are limited. Hence, each development plan tends to contain exaggerations of what the party intends to do. Only unsophisticated people believe that all what a political party includes in its manifesto will be accomplished. How often have we heard people lamenting that the party they had voted for had deceived them?

Preferably, the first development plan should cover a period of 10 years both for political and economic consideration. Most democratic constitutions provide two terms for a president. This enables a president to complete the projects he or she started in the first term.

It is advisable to have an independent commission to draw the plan rather than a committee of the ruling party. It so happens that when a government is elected, it wants to introduce and implement projects of its own and reverse the priorities of the previous regime. This often results in misuse of resources. Other things being equal, the development plan should have approval of all major political parties.

Some development plans incorporate forecast growth rates both in financial terms and real terms. Financial terms are in respect of Gross Domestic Product whereas in really terms, it is the number of schools or hospital projects completed or roads built. In a democratic country, political parties have to keep on making such promises to avoid being ignored by the public.

People can remain loyal to leaders in power only if the leaders regularly point out now they have expended taxpayers’ money and this is done by drawing people’s attention to what was included in the development plan.

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