“If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there”
This is one of the first quotes you learn when trying to understand Monitoring and Evaluation, and given the current times we are in it seems applicable.
I just recently finished reviewing the Budget speeches given during the period 2006 to present (no it is not that I have nothing to do, taking care of my two daughters with my wife and being a Transparency advocate keeps me busy). But for me a Budget statement must not be looked as a singular event in time. The policy prescriptions must have evolved over a long time. Hence my curiosity in looking at what these statements offered.
Now these statements goes through 2 PNM administrations, 1 UNC/COP administration (there was never any political party called the Peoples Partnership after all) and 5 Ministers of Finance. From looking at each of these statements I have noted the following:
1. We suck at Revenue Collection. In every one there is talk of leakages and the creation of a Revenue Authority under the PNM and the UNC/COP having consultants do a “a comprehensive review of our tax system. This review will cover the entire tax system, including tax policy, administration, and enforcement”.
2. Apparently the major areas for diversification are Agriculture; Marine/Yachting, Manufacturing, Tourism, Downstream Energy Industries, Outsourcing Financial Services; Creative Industries; Fashion and Food. Countless incentives and tax breaks have been offered but yet we are still reliant on Oil and Gas.
3. We have spent Billions every Budget on Education, National Security, Health, Housing, Public Utilities etc, yet Crime is High, cost of Healthcare is high (because we have to go private), people still need houses, not every where gets a reliable Water Supply etc. Have we seen any major Impacts?
4. Local Government and Public Sector Reform seems to be un-achievable. Apparently it can’t be done Wow
5. CEPEP and URP needs to be more productive and assist in manufacturing and Agriculture and slowly move away from Gov’t assistance. I will believe it when I see it.
6. Poverty reduction is always on the card. Though some may argue that we do the reverse and have a Poverty Increasing programme.
7. We love to tax things to make more money or punish bad habits (Casinos) or offer Tax incentives to assist Business (yet they always complaining) or reduce tax or offer tax relief to create more disposable income to increase savings (Amazon here I come).
8. Can’t seem to figure out Clico and CL Financial (2008 to present)
9. Recycling and Waste Management is important to save the environment (every time it rains we see how well that has worked)
I highlight these things to make the point that words on a piece of paper read and debated every September/October means nothing if not backed up with real action and we as a people need to start holding our politicians and government officials to account and really ask for results.
While the numbers are good we need to move beyond and the “SO WHAT” question becomes critical. So What if you fixed and built 500 Km of roads; So What if we now have 2 hospitals; So What if we trained 10,000 people in different skills; So What if we spent more money or less money this year than last year. What difference does that make if people have to wait 2 days to get a hospital bed, take 2 hours to reach to work, can’t get a job with the skills they have etc.
For me therefore the most important document laid in this years budget statement has to be the National Performance Framework 2017-2020 . Now I would admit my bias here because I am trained in Monitoring and Evaluation (though my wife is more the practitioner than I am) and I did work a bit on the Committee for the creation of a National M&E Policy.
This NPF 2017-2020 is deliberately designed to measure Governments implementation progress and Government’s performance in the context of their recently completed Vision 2030 National Development Strategy and is a document we need to study and use to inform our questions to Ministers.
The Media, Civil Society and we the general public need to be less concerned on Activities and Outputs and more concerned with Outcomes and Impacts. There need to be a concerted effort to change the focus of discussion and by re-positioning our questions we would force the Government (regardless of who is in power) to have to provide reasons, data and evidence to back up what they are saying.
We live in a challenging time, but I also believe that it if the opportune time for us to also change old habits and re-focus our country to compete in the global environment of the 21st Century. A Government must be of the people, for the people and by the people. The key word is people and it is time that we the people demonstrate that there need to be a two way discussion in order turn this country around, and no Government, Political Party is bigger or has more power than we a people united and willing to question and seek answers for what ever decisions you make on our behalf.