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Sunday, November 23, 2014

A National Development Plan: What should be expected?

We have heard very little about the National Development Plan for The Bahamas. People from all quarters of the Bahamian society have clamoured, begged and pleaded for someone to commit to creating a proper one for a new Bahamas. For years, the calls have gone unanswered. Until now!

The government of The Bahamas has launched the initial phases of The National Development Plan. The plan is being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, and costs for its production has been slated at over $450 thousand.

A national secretariat has been created, with Director of Financial Services, Dr. Nicola Virgil Rolle, slated as the chairperson heading a team of six.

The plan itself is in the planning stages (I hate to sound "punny", but it's true...). However, the thought of such, how it will be designed, the agencies involved, the process it should take and the overall outcome for Bahamians is something that should make the citizenry excited about the possibilities.

The usefulness of a development plan for the country also has strong merit. For far too long economic planning and development in The Bahamas has been virtually nil. Subsequently, a new department has been created under the Office of The Prime Minister, with carriage of this department laying with the Minister of State responsible for Investments, Khaalis Rolle.

There were previous attempts at providing a pathway forward with regard to national planning born out of the private sector, albeit from an aspiring politician, John Bostwick and his "Bahamas Vision 20/20".

The good part about Mr. Bostwick's "Vision 20/20" document was that it was pregnant with ideas. The document put in written and clear form what most Bahamian people saw as important for national development. However, the document was void on the "how to", the "how much" and the "which ways and means" should we proceed. Also, it wasn't as much of a plan as much as it was a statement of wishes and hopes for the future.

One can say that Mr. Bostwick's 20/20 vision was created without universal consultation, insufficient funding along with an expedient approach to an initiative that just takes a great deal of doing. But one cannot argue against the sincerity of his attempt, and one would hope that some of his ideas are embraced in the context that if it makes sense, we should investigate the possibility of these things coming to be.

In addition, The College of The Bahamas, as it continually moves towards university status, have long since had in concept research facilities and advisory consultancies with regard to national development. In fact, the college has been extremely candid in their bids to be involved in the development and planning of The Bahamas. The research put out from the college has been scant due to underfunding and the very disturbing matter of the college being without leadership with a clear mandate, not just for research, but leadership overall.

videoThe college will be a part of the process even though they do not have a seat on the board of the secretariat. We hope that this is a slight omission and that someone will be there to represent the college when the process begins in earnest.

So, here we have it: The national development plan project being officially launched at The College of The Bahamas; funding, and no doubt technical support, being provided by The Inter-American Development Bank; a secretariat formed with a seasoned civil servant at the helm with a supporting team of six; a moribund governmental department being given new life under the office of the prime minister; and a slew of ideas from the public and private sector just waiting to be fleshed out in a systematic and mechanical manner that makes sense.

But before we titter with glee, we must be mindful, as is Dr. Virgil-Rolle, on the pitfalls that a process like this may encounter. And with that we should add a few more notes along with that to boot.

For starters, we hope that any document, work or theoretical rendering offered up through this process, does not end up on the shelf along with the other reams and reams of documents, as Dr. Virgil-Rolle suggests that we should not want to happen. This is why my initial reaction to this undertaking was: Will this plan and the works produced prove to be useful as a final product?

Without a doubt it must be seen as useful, and public buy-in essential. To that end, we should strive for a superior product, one that goes deep into the recesses of our culture, attitude towards social living and government and find the root causes of things and seek ways and means to correct them.

We are under the assumption that this national development plan is being designed with the sole purpose of building a better, common life for all of us. So the final product must be one that speaks to that primarily, and not one that speaks just for speaking's sake or offers up what conventional wisdom from the current structure says is good for us.

Another point for consideration is with the notion of something like this can be done by June, 2015. I'm not certain that a properly done, well reasoned, well researched and well drafted plan that has any intentions of execution on any portion can be completed in that short space of time.

For example, extensive consultations with experts, both local and foreign, need to take place. Extensive research, engineering studies, international and national risk assessments, scientific studies and other various means of studies must be produced from these consultations and a focusing of this information must then be channelled. In addition, financial analysis, economic impact assessments under different scenarios and stress indicators need to be taken into consideration along with various counter-measures and policy recommendations when something works too well, works half-way, doesn't work at all, or is deleterious to the entire framework of national development.

During the 2002-2007 political administration, there was a study done on how to enhance the human resources of the civil service. The time it took to analyse, detail, collate and present a document that made sense, even without the necessary recommendations for policy changes and legislation drafted, took more than 2 and 1/2 years. This was just with regard to the proper alignment of the human resources of the civil service, and not anything with regard to technological modernization, product and service efficiency, or facilities maintenance or how does one finance all of this.

More fundamentally, you need data. Both historic data along with actionable and working data in real time. Data, statistics, quantitative studies and qualitative logical-frameworks have historically been neglected in The Bahamas.

Just to give you an idea of what I mean, I was a guest on the talk-show "Connected" a few days back with a colleague of mine, Lester R. Cox, on Guardian Radio's, 96.9fm. Cox presented to the listening audience a study on social progress and asked the audience that, out of 150 plus countries, where they thought The Bahamas ranked in the world? The answer was that The Bahamas wasn't ranked at all, because there wasn't enough data provided from The Bahamas on any of the study's indicators.

I'd also have to add that when doing research on The Bahamas, or reading any working paper or policy document on The Bahamas, Caribbean, regional or world comparative document, other than broad based, macro-economic and financial data compiled through virtue of our budget process that the international organizations like the IMF, IDB, World Bank and the UN use to make their broad assessments, The Bahamas is always noticeably under-represented, or figures absent due to lack of available and reliable data.
This is just for starters when we talk about crafting a meaningful development plan that one wishes not to be placed on the shelf with the other un-read and under-utilized policy recommendations for The Bahamas.

From my estimation there is a lot to be done. A lot to be done properly if we are about to do what it is that was said will be done.

We shouldn't waste our time on a product that would just sit on the shelf. We should have a totally defined document based high minded methods and see it as a working and living document. A working, living document that induces action on first best information and not reduce itself and all of us to low-ball expectations.

Along with it being a perpetual work in progress, it should also be a check-list for things we are about to do and the things we actually want done. Not what a small sub-section of the structure feels would be best, but what we as Bahamians want and need done.

We deserve no less than that.

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