This item was first published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on February 17th, 2017

I was very pleased to receive a copy of the government’s report card this week. It provides a snapshot of what has and has not been achieved with reference to the government’s 100 day plan and the medium-long term plans that were already in place.

As Vanuatu moves into a ‘right to information’ era, an we should all welcome this type of thing. On the ‘supply’ side of political engagement, it gives government an opportunity to tell the wider community what their elected representatives have achieved. On the ‘demand’ side it allows the rest of us to see how political statements are translated into action. It also provides an insight into some of the challenges that government agencies face in doing that.

The report card is a meaty document that captures a lot of information in an easily accessible way. There are a lot of things in it that can and should merit discussions within government and elsewhere. I was disappointed to learn that no one from government was able or willing to join the ‘Coffee and Controversy’ programme on Tuesday to talk about what the report card says.

This was a missed opportunity I feel. Let’s hope that in future, documents such as these come with a meaningful communications strategy. One that goes beyond putting things on a website and sending them to some media outlets.

There are a few things in this document that caught my eye and that I’ll look at here.

First is the impact of imposing a 100 day plan on agencies’ ability to progress pre-existing plans.

Across the whole of government 52.7% of the objectives on the 100-day plan are considered ‘complete’ as compared with 30.7% of the medium-long term objectives.

This could indicate that the pressure to ‘act short’ is getting in the way of implementing plans that were already in place. If that’s the case, the ways in which something like 100-day plan is used may need to be revised.

There is a danger that it can become the only tool in the box. Ministries and agencies already have a number of plans they are working with (corporate plans, business plans, work plans).

Perhaps another approach would be to have a 100-day report – ministries and departments report every 100 days on their progress against the plans they already have.

In relation to medium-long term plans, there are a couple of ministries with no information in this report card. It’s not clear whether that is because they didn’t provide the information or because they don’t have medium-long term plans in place. Let’s hope it’s the former.

Another item that caught my eye is the continuing good work being done by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management in rolling out the use of Financial Service Bureaux (FSB) in provincial areas.

This activity is one of the best things Vanuatu has achieved in relation to public financial management and not enough people know about what they are and why they are so important.

In a nutshell they are facilities located in provincial centres that allow real time access to the government financial management system. They provide for timely payments of salaries and bills for goods and services.

These facilities have been in place since 2012 and the challenge is that line agencies have not yet given the appropriate authority to provincial officers to be able to make use of them.screenshot-2017-04-06-13-49-41

Again, this is a huge missed opportunity to make use of this service across most if not all of government. It is particularly important for the bigger ministries such as education and health so that their staff and suppliers can be paid in a timely manner.

It would be great to see ‘implement use of FSB’ on the 2018 business plans of those ministries and departments who are not yet on board.

And then I was struck by the number of challenges faced by ministries that indicate some sort of bottleneck occurring within the legislative drafting section of the State Law Office.

The report card does not indicate what the causes of this bottleneck are. It may be that we don’t have enough legislative drafters or the ones that we have require further professional development to be able to deal with the type and amount of work they are required to do.

Or there may be other reasons. Whatever the cause or causes may be this is something that needs to be addressed.

Too often I meet technical advisers who have been brought in from overseas to draft legislation for a particular department or ministry.

They often appear to do so without engaging meaningfully with the State Law Office. Inputs of this type may address a short-term technical need but they do not build institutional strength, which is what we need.

If you haven’t read the report card, I recommend you do so. It contains lots to think about and discuss with your MP next time you run into him.

 

About Tess Newton Cain

With more than 20 years’ experience of living and working in the Pacific, I understand its needs, local customs, issues and challenges, and have built strong networks and productive relationships with policy makers, opinion formers, key institutions, private sector operators and development partners. If you are a development agency or NGO needing more and better information about the Pacific context for your work or a business looking to enter a new and unfamiliar Pacific market, I can provide you with the research, analysis and strategy you will need.

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