straight to the point – from different points of view

Planning to fail

Planning to fail

When I heard that the Prime Minister had decided to take the reins at the Ministry of Planning I was perplexed. Planning, as a professional discipline requires many skills that he has not only failed to exhibit but which he has poured scorn upon. I refer to his disdain for feasibility studies and his aversion to the very principles he spoke so highly of during the piloting of our Procurement legislation as just two examples.

Let me state at the outset that key Ministerial portfolios ought to be filled by persons with relevant competence. They need not be technical experts in the field but they should be able to demonstrate a basic grasp of the principles of the post. This should apply to all positions. It is very clear to me that many of the disasters that have befallen us can be traced to the inability of successive Ministers to discharge their responsibilities in anything close to a competent manner.

This is how we have operated for decades and the results are there for all to see. Outside of the energy sector I struggle to think of a single investment created by the Planning Ministry that generates a positive return for the country. Why would we wish to continue in that vein?

One could argue that the Planning Ministry has a broad remit and covers areas that are outside the reach of what might be considered conventional planning. Perhaps the Prime Minister has a proven track record and expertise in those aspects of the work of the Ministry. So I went to their website to find out what are the roles it is expected to perform. Here is what I found

The Ministry of Planning and Development also facilitates national development through the following:

  • Coordinating all stakeholders in the development of Trinidad and Tobago’s National Strategy for Development, Vision 2030;

  • coordination of national statistics;

  • Environmental policy, planning and management;

  • National monitoring and evaluation;

  • Socio-economic planning, coordinating and monitoring;

  • Spatial development;

  • and technical cooperation on special projects and programmes inter alia.

Looking down that list I see a loud call for data driven decision making and deep analysis and monitoring during implementatin. Again, this is expected for any agency that is engaged in planning, especially as in this case where the efficient functioning of the country and its economy depends on it. Any prospects for diversification upon which so much hope is placed are futile without the required data, the commitment to analysis and a willingness to use that data to monitor performance and make informed decisions.

With such data, analysis and monitoring, it would have been impossible for Petrotrin directors to spend 12 billion dollars without a red flag being raised. How were they able to continue spending while the projects must clearly have failed a long time earlier? Does the Prime Minister exhibit any qualities or expertise that would enable the next Petrotrin style failure to be nipped at a much earlier point in time? I fear that the answer is not promising.

At the top level the goals of the Ministry require coordination of a range of activities, many of which can affect each other. Where is the track record of impact analysis and risk assessment so crucial to achieving all the stated goals without actions in one area negatively affecting others? Planning is a complex matter that requires more than simplistic statements like “we know what we want let us just do it”. We need to evaluate what is best before we could possibly decide what we want.

I guess it sounds too much like work to some to follow professional methods. Their consistent failures have failed to persuade them that a more studied approach to planning and procurement will bear fruit whereas planning by hunch results in purchasing a boat that cannot dock at the designated port and requires a docking station to be put in place every day at a daily cost reported to be in the order of 20,000 dollars.

On top of all of this is the obvious need to take individual decisions in line with overarching longer term plans. In recent times we have seen such plans jettisoned in pursuit of a Sandals Hotel in Tobago alongside other projects that appear like magic that bear no relation to anything in our strategic plans

It is not encouraging that our Prime Minister who recently disregarded our strategic plans for tourism development in Tobago is now to take charge of planning. I would love to be proven wrong and see him put our strategic plans, most of which are encapsulated in Vision 2030 at the heart of all planning and implementation.

To put it mildly, I do not see anything in his approach to decision making to suggest that a studied approach based on strategic long term plans and driven by up to date accurate data is likely. Four years after their manifesto promised data driven decision making I am yet to see any meaningful results of that promise. Too often we still hear Ministers saying “I will have to check to get that information” in response to the most simple queries.

I therefore close today with a wish that our new Minister of Planning address his mind to one thing if nothing else. Get our data capture and reporting systems up to speed as quickly as possible. Nothing else is possible without it. If he achieved just that one goal, I would mark his tenure as a success. Ive set the bar very low but I prefer to be realistic.

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