Stakeholder Interests, Power, and Decision Making
(JollofNews) – Properly functioning dispensation of public affairs takes into account and provides for all stakeholder shared interests. That is done with great fairness in order to ensure optimal satisfaction.
In this edition of our series on Gambian political economy we shall explore and examine the balance of power in decision making for good governance and better management of public affairs including, finance, projects, national development plans, budgeting, in the most gainful allocation of resources. As in so many countries, those who assume political power are seen to be in control of public resources by which occasion they take key decisions on behalf of everyone else. We shall be looking at stakes for taking critical decisions in matters of public concern.
Balance of power and stakeholder matrix
Every decision making goes with stakes and interests for those whose life is affected one way or another. All those who are affected by a decision count as stakeholders. In business, we talk about shareholders referring to those who buy shares and expect returns for their investment.
Stakeholder interest and balance of power can be simply understood in terms of interest, stakes, and influence. Some stakeholders have merely an interest and no power of influence. Others have interest, power of influence and also stakes. In the stakeholder matrix, majority of people have high stakes, high interest, and low influence. Reversely other stakeholders have high interest, high stakes, and high power of influence.
Minority of the people in political power that often make decisions on behalf the majority may not always have equal level of stakes and interest as the rest. That is what makes it imperative that all stakeholders are adequately consulted for their concerns and input. Is that happening in Gambia ?
In management of public resources individuals whose life may be affected already contributed to building of such resources as tax payers in some respect. That is not all. Introducing new laws and making life changing decisions about health, security, education, commerce, and vast array of matters affecting people’s life could not be carried judiciously without conflicting interests and stakes. It is therefore most proper that all stakeholders are consulted when such decisions are made.
Quite the contrary in the Gambia when decisions are made by politicians regarding the national economy and public finance stakeholder consultation is not considered such an obligation.
Politics of development
Building bridges and houses as material show of development is common practice by people in political power just to impress the population without due consultation. All around the country local population woke to the sight of school buildings and being told education at their doorstep.
Amid the excitement of seeing new schools come up the most proper way of going about things was to carry out needs assessment followed by thorough feasibility studies. People become owners of development when they are consulted and given choices to decide on provision of felt-needs based on priority ranking.
As with the airport terminal addition and other buildings erected by the junta APRC government stakeholders have not been consulted to make informed choice. By implementing projects without due consultation with stakeholders Gambia government risks the venture of misplaced priorities.
When all is done and gone, local people are simply alerted to the event of drumming and dancing as government makes loud pronouncements about another project completion. There are always some hidden costs that may not be justified by what is anticipated as benefits.
No matter whether stakeholders are consulted or not (often they are not) the celebration of projects in local communities invariably yields political capital especially during election periods.
Politics and development run hand in hand. Development politics is what people in power use by erection of concrete structures or building bridges as with Gambia to claim they are making changes. Such projects end up with political developments where the incumbent gains further rating.
National development priorities
Rather than seeking to impress the population with white elephant projects it is most proper to carry out stakeholder consultations as way of setting priorities right.
Coming back to the situation of Gambia under the junta government building schools for a sick and hungry rural population may not be the highest priority. As local people are not consulted it remains a case of them taking what is delivered.
Local people are not properly sensitised to enable them make informed choices according most immediately felt priorities. In the absence of mass awareness through political education electioneering propaganda takes centre stage in futility. Politicians make promises and ruling party takes pride of bringing development even while lot of the projects remain white elephant symbols in many years.
From conception to implementation stakeholders must be consulted in line with best practice throughout the project life cycle. People are not given options in Gambia but simply informed that a project is coming sooner or later.
That is very serious down side of stakeholder relations in setting national priorities right. People in political power will be seen doing greater economic injustice by committing bulk of public resources for perceived advantages without due stakeholder consultations and to ascertain national development priorities are set right.
Money borrowed in the name of the nation adding to tax collections all make up public funds. It is improper and such a corruption for government of the day to raise funds in everyone’s name only to use bulk of that money satisfying an individual or selected few.
In commercial trading there is separation between business and personal funds. Running a government is meant to go by the same or even stricter rule of separating public and private funds. In Gambia under the junta government money borrowed, grants, and all tax collected get bundled together and handed to head of government as though a private investor running personal business. That is one reason why public sector finance shrinks in shambles. People are afraid to talk about this openly. Everyone is weeping and sobbing bitterly in silence.
There are no financial regulations or rules to follow. Designated tax collectors and public sector finance agents play by dictates of what they call executive directives.
What makes the public finance situation under the Gambia junta government so bad is that there are no proper statements of accounts for financial transactions. Money is lifted in bulk from Central Bank of Gambia or public revenue collectors and delivered direct to the executive director of state otherwise known as the president.
Gambian tax payer public as key stakeholders are never consulted or informed about sources and uses of money borrowed or tax collected in everyone’s name. Government business of collecting tax or raising funds through other sources remains a private secret between collectors and undeserving recipients.
All public sector post holders including president of the country are meant to be receiving fixed sum of money as salary or wages. They also enjoy such fringe benefits like free transport, travel allowance, and vast opportunities. That is all paid from public coffers. It is therefore improper and you may be right to call corruption if public sector post holders including president of the nation should take money outside the officially regulated system.
Matters get worse as so much water runs under the bridge without others knowing if it is high or low tide. Government of the day does not respect the population as equal or in some regards more important stakeholders. The general public is not informed about public finance and cash flow situation.
Projects are introduced as though gift items from government. Public consultation is seen as waste of time. Members of the public as key holders are not given their rightful mandate to scrutinise those handling taxpayer funds.
Once in a year, information comes through public radio and television announcing the Annual Budget Speech. Look at this more attentively. Annual Budget Speech!
What happens behind closed doors leading to an agreed public budget, the public is not involved in that. Finally the Minister of Finance emerges with high sounding figures narrated as budget for the year. How can a government be seen serious and upright while deciding a budget without consulting key stakeholders like the general public?
Over periods of time projects are brought to local areas without any feasibility studies and proper consultations. Every project has cost attached to it. Maybe local people have higher priorities as most immediately felt needs apart from what government comes up with. All projects require time and resources from conception, planning, implementation, handing over and evaluation. It is politically incorrect and professionally unethical to design and deliver a project without due stakeholder consultation.
As part of stakeholder consultations government is under every obligation to educate the population about programme of national development for which separate projects are required. As public resources are at stake, all stakeholders have right to be adequately informed.
Taking for granted that whatever new projects that government delivers at local communities is part of commitment to development is fallacious.
In the situation with Gambia it is not only the government that ventures into projects without due consultation. There are Non-Governmental Organisations NGOs that are also quick at introducing projects without thorough feasibility studies.
Examples of village garden projects that later become unsustainable are numerous. Just like Gambia government having to impose on the local population without due stakeholder consultation NOGs similarly come up with projects that never stay on after phase out stage.
One reason why so many projects have failed in Gambia is the fact that at design and budgeting level, stakeholder consultation is minimal or simply reduced to periodic field treks. So much money is spent on staff maintenance on top of mobility and equipment costs. Local people are not told how such costs are justified.
Workshops and reporting costs are all open avenues that project staffs dish out huge chunks of money in the budget without informing local people in whose good names the project comes about.
While it can be agreed that projects contribute to attaining national development goals, stakeholder consultation is a component that cannot be missing or simply down played.
Inability to read and on the part of local population is no excuse in consulting them for their input during planning and to enable them scrutinise the entire process just in case something goes wrong.
Failure in consulting stakeholders on the part of Gambia government and NGOs is ready recipe to poor performance and low output development targets.
Realistic planning and budgeting cannot be taken for mere fiddling with figures without facts. Budgeting is considered real day dream when figures are just posted on spreadsheets or some neatly presented documentation without taking into account what really obtains on the ground.
Public sector budgeting is no private commercial matter where the head of government swings on that high chair practically telling everyone what to do. As we are looking at stakeholder consultation in the context of planning and distributing public resources, drawing a national budget cannot be left loosely.
By experience of what obtains in Gambia public sector budgeting is one of those most improperly handled responsibilities in the longest time. The population is never informed of about government reserves, loans, grants, deficits, surpluses, and all that determines good or poor performance. Suddenly a body of figures emerge from the Finance Minister calling it national budget.
Deepest and biggest black hole of Gambia government budgeting is the fact that there are no realistic plans. The budget is not raised on account of concrete plans. It is a balloon effect budgeting. Funds are put in the balance ready for consumption. It is a matter of completing the formalities of budgeting and then doing something completely different from what has been stated.
In practice funds are gradually depleted before the budget cycle completes. Under the junta government, after all the budgeting it remains for everyone to follow executive orders. That is how the president physically dictates cash flow in the public sector without following rules and regulations.
All sectors of government deserve to be adequately allocated with good enough funds and to be stipulated in the national budget. When the president demands money outside of the budget he is physically sucking the economy and financial life blood.
In the absence of properly constituted rules and regulations, budgeting in the public sector finance is meaningless. There may appear to be several competent planners and budget experts with one spending authority who commands by executive directives. That is why plans are not implemented, cash flow is stagnant, budgeting is not realistic, and the inevitable catastrophe of Gambia government development failure.
When the president declared some time back that he is dictator, he was quick to add something. He said he is dictator of development.
To that we can say to the president national development is not dictated. It is a result of proper planning and due stakeholder consultation. Hopefully, the next government will encourage stakeholder consultation when dictatorship shall become history never needing to repeat.