There are various definitions attributed to planning. Likewise there are different types of plans, just as there are levels of planning.
Generally, planning is a basic management function involving formulation of one or more detailed plans to achieve optimum balance of needs or demands with the available resources. It is a process of setting goals, developing strategies and outlining tasks and schedules to accomplish goals.
In essence, effective planning should identify goals or objectives, formulate strategies to achieve the goals or objectives, arrange or create the means required, and finally implement, direct and monitor all processes in their proper sequence. It is, therefore, an important exercise in achieving the goals and objectives. Besides, it has been said that failure to plan is indeed planning to fail.
That said, the question that arises quite often than not, is whether planning is an end in itself, whether planning is the ultimate goal of an organisation, whether planning is an output that an organisation aims to achieve. Put simply, whether an organisation, government department or ministry should be principally contented with developing and revising policies and strategies only, while paying little attention to execution of such plans. To tackle these observations, one needs to examine the reasons behind developing the policies, strategies and other planning tools.
Put crudely, plans are just what they are—plans. They are nothing, just as they are useless if there is no execution.
Now, let us take Malawi into the picture. Our country is known for developing some of the best plans in form of policies and strategies in this part of Africa. In fact, there are unconfirmed reports that some countries copied our elaborate policies and strategies, and went ahead to implement those policies, while we have allowed our beautiful plans to gather dust on our shelves, only to spend more money going to those countries that copied our elaborate documents to learn from them on how they have transformed their countries! It is not uncommon to hear that we cannot do this because we do not have an enabling policy, or we have an outdated policy, or we need to develop a policy first, this is despite the countless policies and strategies that have been developed without any implementation.
One cannot help, but label such statements as mere excuses and rhetoric for our failure to embark on an aggressive implementation drive. Recently, President Peter Mutharika, made an impromptu visit to a number of areas in Limbe, where some if not most of the buildings were in a sorry state. The President urged the owners of such building to renovate them or outright demolition and erect structures befitting the city. It was saddening to hear some commentators or is it analysts, arguing that there are no regulations, or was it policy or guidelines or by-laws, that provide for the red star campaign, which could have been a tool that can be used to follow up on what the President lamented about, the poor state of some buildings.
In other words, despite posing danger, the dilapidated structures or buildings cannot be demolished unless there are regulations or by-laws to guide that, really? Sad as it may sound, the country is awash with similar statements. A month rarely passes, before one hears such statements as we cannot achieve meaningful development in this particular sector, because there is no policy dealing with that issue, or the one in use is outdated, the question, however, is, what have we implemented about that policy before we talk of a review of the same.
One simply hopes for a day that people will be taken to task, to detail what exactly is the level of implementation of a particular policy before they talk of its inadequacies and therefore advocating its review otherwise, the country will continue to spend its meagre resources on developing documents or reviewing and perfecting documents without any tangible translation on the ground, which can only be through execution.
Some analysts always fault whatever documentation is put on the table. Recently, some analysts were discrediting the approved National Disaster Risk Management Policy. Already, some analysts are punching holes in the Public Sector Reform agenda being championed by the government.
Now, while such analysis has the potential to water down the impetus, let down those who had hope in the process, would not it be proper to give the reforms an opportunity to take effect first?
The author contributes regularly on various national issues.