By Felix Mwenge
On June 21st 2017, President Edgar Lungu launched the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP), themed “Accelerating development efforts towards the Vision 2030 without leaving anyone behind”. The document is a five-year plan which shall guide national development from now until 2021 and fits into Zambia’s Vision 2030, whose goal is to make Zambia an industrialized prosperous middle income country by that year.
Immediate past national development plans include the Fifth National Development Plan (FNDP), Sixth National Development Plan (SNDP) and the Revised Sixth National Development Plan (R-SNDP).
The plan has been well received so far with many praising it as a unique blue print for Zambia’s development which, if implemented, could contribute significantly to the achievement of Vison 2030. In this article I point out one strength of the 7NDP, namely a change of development strategy from sectoral to multi-sectoral. I use an example from China on how this can be leveraged to achieve development. I later express my fear, which is that the 7NDP is too ambitious for current macroeconomic developments. I provide comments on how to work through the 7NDP given resource constraints.
As mentioned above, unlike previous plans, the 7NDP promises to adopt an integrated multi-sectoral or Cluster approach to development. This follows recognition of the multi-faceted and inter-linked nature of sustainable development. Previous plans have always used a sectoral approach which inadvertently made Ministries to work in silos. This did not promote rational use of resources as the system was not void of conflicting agendas and duplication of activities. The new approach means that the pursuit of public policies, programmes and projects will now be synchronized across sectors and ministries, with inter-ministerial coordination structures and mechanisms being established to ensure coherence.
Zambia is not the first developing country to take this kind of approach to development. China, which lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty over a period of 30 years, could not have been so successful without taking an integrated approach to development. In his ‘manual’ of poverty reduction ‘Up and Out of Poverty’, President of China, Xi Jinping shares practical lessons on integrated development. He stresses the need for stakeholders to ‘sing in unison’ if positive results are to be realized from development efforts. Like a choir there should be a common ‘economic chorus’ which all must sing together. Based on President Xi Jinping’s advice the 7NDP is doomed to fail if every Ministry, Province, District or Constituency only stresses the importance of its own work. Rather all parties should form an integrated whole and be conscious of the overall goal and strategies to achieve economic diversification.
However, co-ordinating development has its own challenges and Government needs to be aware. President Xi Jinping advises the need to mobilize enthusiasm in each Ministry so everyone moves at the same pace. Coincidentally, the 7NDP seeks to promote change management programmes aimed at bringing about mind-set change among all stakeholders which will involve packaging the integrated approach to planning and implementation and communicating the approach to all stakeholders.
Mowing away from integrated approach to development the 7NDP is worryingly too ambitious for the current macroeconomic context. This is unfortunate as plans should always match available or expected resources. Starting in 2012, Zambia took on too much debt in a short space of time. Growth dipped, inflation ballooned and exchange rate volatilities escalated exacerbating the rising inflation. While the country is slowly recovering, Zambia will still be servicing debt obligations during the whole period of the 7NDP. This poses resource constraints on the fiscal space to undertake huge developmental projects, such as infrastructure, which are key to achieving economic diversification.
A change of approach is therefore required. Priority setting should be the most important aspect of the implementation process. President Xi Jinping observes, ‘working without setting priorities and sticking to fundamentals is simply tinkering’. This was the case in previous plans which Government has also acknowledged. There were too many too many priorities which ended up spreading resources too thin. A situation where everyone seems busy working and spending resources but without seeing development is demoralising. This must change under the 7NDP.
How then, can Government implement such an ambitious plan in the midst of scarce resources? The most obvious answer is to phase development projects based on robust appraisal systems so that only the most urgent ones are implemented. Since the main goal is to diversify the economy each project should be measured by the extent to which it will contribute to achieving this particular goal. This will call for strengthening capacity for project appraisal in Government. Not only that but other parties such as Ministries and Members of Parliament be made to understand the rationale of phasing projects.
Lastly, President Xi Jinping advises that another thing Governments can do in the absence of sufficient public resources, is concentrate on building ‘software’. By this he means instead of direct involvement in economic activities Government can begin by simplifying procedures, reduce fees, improve the quality of service, introduce one-stop registration and so on. These will improve the business environment and make investors with resources to come to Zambia and begin investing, and start setting up businesses.