The private sector has caught on to the benefits of development plans
There is a broad theme running through many company documents, especially those focussing on investment and economic growth. Whether it is the MD’s report in a set of financial statements, the explanation for a company’s involvement in grass-roots investments, or even good old mileage that clever marketing guys spin from corporate social investment, I find references to the fourth National Development Plan almost on a daily basis.
This is a rather dramatic turn-around compared to the usual response the first three development plans elicited from private sector leaders. Scratching through some older (five years or more) financials from a spectrum of companies, large and small, I failed to find a single reference to either National Development Plan 2 or 3. It is almost as if these government strategies went largely unheeded, drawing almost zero attention from analysts, reinforcing the broader notion that these were hardly of any significance.
I think the change came about slowly. It started with the drafting of Vision 2030, when NDP3 was still in its execution phase. Vision 2030, although lacking in detail, provided just what it claimed – a vision. But the process of fleshing out the detail was arduous and after some time, I got the impression even the agencies and committees appointed in the public sector, lost interest after drafting some glorious documents.
The problem with NDP 2 and 3 was their vague intentions, lack of clear targets, and especially, their lack of any practical strategies. That changed abruptly last year when the National Planning Commission introduced and launched NDP 4. Here, after all, we had a document with clear guidelines, stated intentions, a broad policy framework, and most importantly, deadlines!
I must yet meet the person that can unambiguously tell me exactly when NDP 2 or 3 started, when it ended, or what it strove to attain. The vague undefined lack-of-policy statements hovered in the background, more as political statements than as development roadmaps, and the one morphed into the other without any informed person being able to pinpoint goals, targets or deadlines.
The fourth National Development Plan surprisingly provided a clear policy framework. It is very determined in its targets, and it describes the vehicle for economic growth in rather clear detail. It did, however, start at a rather inopportune time, since the national budget was in the middle of an aggressively expansionary phase, but perhaps, over the long term, this will also help to mobilise capital, commitment and effort.
Wherever I talk to people nowadays, NDP 4 enters the discussion. Companies refer to it so frequently in their statements, I start wondering what is wrong, or different, if I do not see it mentioned in some way or other, either as a statement of support or as a strategic consideration where private sector investment is looking for projects that guarantee a reasonable return on investment.
NDP 4 provides a structured, orchestrated, synchronised mandate for economic growth. It brings to the attention of anybody that takes development, investment and growth seriously, the dire need to follow a bottom-up approach by first laying the enabling foundation so that the enterprising spirits can contribute, each in his or her own way, to make the cake bigger. It is not an exaggeration to state NDP 4 enjoys wide support in the private sector. Its development mandate has been taken up by government agencies with just as much vigour as private companies realise there are future profits in SME training, in public private partnerships, and in fighting poverty.
The fact that the private sector is enthusiastic about NDP 4 has provided another key element for its success – detail. Now that many more heads have joined the groundswell, suddenly I see company initiatives deployed across a very wide spectrum of economic activity ranging from grass-roots financing to the most lofty projects running into billions of dollars. In other words, the moment the development plan provided clear targets and strategies, companies responded by first taking the cause serious, and then working on the detail, sometimes almost per project, to ensure that this wave of hope and enthusiasm turns into a capital wave.
As we stand on the eve of the new budget, I am keenly waiting to see how the fiscus exits the so-called Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth. I think most players in the economy ask themselves the crucial question: what will be the impact when government starts scaling down on its massive financial stimulation?
But looking at all the exciting new projects flying under the NDP 4 banner, personally I think sufficient leverage will be created by the private sector from existing and intended investments so that the government can gradually extricate itself from playing financier, and start focussing on governance.