Doing it and not knowing it, the government way

Government needs to find a way to improve its performance

One strategy was under development already by a government body, when it was discovered that another strategy has also been started at a later stage, addressing only some of the issues that the first strategy was already addressing. The discovery did not affect either process in any way. The second, developed by some of the government workers already involved in the first, is not only redundant; it may also be contradictory, and both are happening now.

When it comes to strategic planning at the highest level, speaking of Ethiopia, one to mention may be the PRSP, the poverty reduction strategic papers. Ignore that Ethiopia and other highly poor countries prepared these documents as a mandatory requirement by the IMF and the World Bank. Take a positive note also of the fact that at least to a degree Ethiopia’s development were considered pro-poor, or friendly to the poor.

The country remains very poor, but it is also one of those countries that have hugely reduced the number of citizens below the poverty line, even if most of them are only slightly above the line. The pessimistic view here is a reflection of some studies which claim that the pro-poorness of Ethiopia’s development plan is declining with time.

Before and after the PRSPs, there have been other similar documents of national significance. Today Ethiopia finds it self with the lofty goals set forth by the Growth & Transformation Plan 2 (GTP II), which has to be aligned with another more global plan called Sustainable Development Goals, the “offspring” of the MDGs. GTPII and its predecessor are unrealistically ambitious, but, as the British ambassador said in one interview, the revolutionary democrats have already surprised the donor community by achieving beyond expectations — they could be excused for the ambition in their plans.

But the wonder may not be why the government planned so ambitiously, when it knew its limitations, but, rather, why the government is not achieving even better than its plans in the GTP.

Some one who observed some of the strategists of Ethiopia’s development once wondered, “If this is development, then it is disappointing.” Once one leaves the territory of the constitution, one gets into a murky world of policies and laws, strategies and plans, rules and regulations, and the individual person, who, according to how much authority he has, can override, duplicate, ignore or be blissfully unaware of any of the rules of the game by which the country’s development is supposed to be coherently steered.

With too many meetings and too many suggestions every where, it is not uncommon to see hugely overlapping and redundant policy documents and practices. The curious situation is that even when the problems are noticed, the activities are allowed to go on with the experts and officials simply giving explanations to justify the unjustifiable. This is a country, after all, where a state enterprise discovered that it had kept unpacked a big machine for nearly 20 years, unaware that it even had it — although this is a bit old.

The enormity of planning for a whole country cannot be exaggerated. Just imagine having to be in charge of deciding what is going to happen in an entire country for a year, five years, 15 years and 20 years and allocating budget for each activity. But there is a comfort that these plans go from the bottom up before going back down. Basically it is thousands of people working on the plans, and mistakes of the past year are lessons for the next year.

Despite that strange things happen in the way the government works. In extreme circumstances, there have been instances where some ministries are not fully aware of what their jurisdiction is. The wrong ministry attempts to do the job of another ministry because it thinks it is its job — this may be rare, although it has actually happened. The same set of people are involved in the production of conflicting strategies and are not even aware of it — or they just don’t care.

The government also lacks a clear mechanism through which it tracks and oversees the performance of the various duties. Reporting systems are poorly designed and coordinated; accountability is minimal; party politics is so pervading that there are too many meetings just discussing how the ruling party is faring in institutions that are there to do government work. Party membership continues to protect the incompetent.

Up and down the line of government structure, there remains the task of establishing effective communication of duties and performances, among the many good governance problems that wreck havoc in the civil service.

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