The following familiar motto is attributable to Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Another familiar unofficial slogan for the British Army states, “Preparation prevents piss-poor performance.” The US Army equivalent notes, “Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.” Along the same lines, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated, “Plan your work for today and every day; then work your plan.” And former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower noted, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
Indeed, effective planning must be a part of every leader’s job responsibility.
But from afar, it appears that planning in the Virgin Islands may not be as robust and structured as it should be. Consequently, in charting a new path forward for the territory, structured planning must be an integral part of the process.
As such, this commentary will focus on a few planning topics: general types of planning; national development planning; business planning; master planning; budget, finance and tax policy planning; and contingency planning.
Planning and programming
The American Planning Association states, “The goal of planning is to maximise the health, safety, and economic well-being of all people living in our communities.”
Planning entails goals, objectives, plans, procedures and policies. It is the systematic approach employed to attain goals and objectives. Goals and objectives identify desired outcomes, while planning starts the process of how things will be done.
Further, procedures articulate the step-by-step sequence of events followed to implement a plan. And policies determine the guidelines on what procedures are standardised. In other words, they are standard operating procedures (known as SOPs).
In the universe of facility management, programming details the justification and scope, and the description, of a project. It also entails project objectives, facility and user requirements, total facility area, and scope of work.
The Cambridge Dictionary is also instructive: It defines a project as “a piece of planned work or an activity finishing over a period of time and intended to achieve a particular purpose.”
In other words, a project has a definite start and finish date.
An example of a project is the ongoing implementing of the Commission of Inquiry recommendations.
Planning and problem-solving
Planning and problem-solving are often confused with one another. However, they are two different actions. Planning is part of the overall problem-solving cycle, which includes multiple steps: identifying the problem; generating solution alternatives; selecting a solution alternative; devising a solution action plan; implementing the plan; and evaluating the results.
Meanwhile, general basic planning typically entails the following: strategic planning, which ranges between five and 10 years and consists of goals, objectives, strategies and tactics; intermediate planning, which typically ranges between one and three years; and short-term planning, for one year or less. All plans should be rolling plans to stay current.
Nat’l development plan
Effective national development planning is critical to the smooth, functional and progressive growth and development of the VI. There seems to be a significant weakness and vulnerability in national development planning here. The condition of the physical infrastructure reflects this weakness. For example, an incoming government can easily and substantially change a project put in place by a previous government. The sometimes apparent politically motivated stops and starts of a project can counter effective growth and development, slow progress, increase cost, delay service delivery, and so on. Consequently, to fix the problem, the government must develop a national development plan that should be approved by a majority of voters and codified into law by the House of Assembly. The HOA should also approve any substantial changes to the plan.
Investopedia states, “A business plan is a document that defines a company’s objectives and how it plans to achieve its goals.”
The VI needs a well-structured and consistent public-sector business planning process. Business plans provide the platforms on which the territory can plan its work and work its plan. The central government should have a master business plan, and each statutory body and department should have a business plan that dovetails with the central government’s plan.
Business plan success requires task tracking, performance monitoring, and reporting capabilities. Additionally, the business plan process should be equipped with a dashboard capability to roll up in real time to the highest levels of government. Several software packages can assist in managing business plans, including a balance scorecard and so on.
The World Bank defines master planning as “a dynamic planning document that provides a conceptual layout to guide future growth and development. A master plan includes analysis, recommendations, and proposals for a site’s population, economy, community facilities, housing, transportation, and land use.”
Master plans for transportation networks, water and sewerage utilities, land use, energy, and so on are beneficial to the VI’s continued growth and development.
Budget and finance, meanwhile, go in hand in hand, yet they are different. It is strategies versus tactics and long-term versus short-term.
Financial planning entails building a long-term plan for aiming at and hitting established financial targets. In contrast, budgeting entails building a budget, which is a fiscal planning roadmap for managing day-to-day income and expenses.
Moreover, effective budgeting and management entail maximising budget efficiency to deliver the most optimal services to the most people. Budget management skills require the challenge of streamlining and making structural adjustments to budgets without markedly cutting services.
The VI is a small, resource-poor locale with a service-based economy (supported mostly by tourism and financial services). Consequently, most government revenues come from taxes and fees.
Nevertheless, among the VI population is an increasing demand for more services but a disdain for increased taxes. Meanwhile, the VI has a considerable infrastructure backlog and other critical needs. And to satisfy this backlog, the territory has to borrow and pay back the loan with increased taxation.
Consequently, the government must develop and implement a tax policy that is fair, reasonable and equitable — albeit unpopular. It must strive for a tax policy and rate that either maximises economic growth and revenue collection or achieves a balance between economic growth and revenue collection. A 1991 study by the United States-based National Center for Policy Analysis stated, “On the average, governments collect the highest possible revenue when they take about 43.2 percent of gross domestic product in taxes;” and “On the average, countries reach their maximum economic growth rates when they take no more than 19.3 percent of GDP in taxes.” Note that the NCPA, founded in 1983, ceased active operations in 2017.
Generally, entities define contingency as an event or something else likely but not certain to happen. Agencies typically plan for what they expect to happen. Nevertheless, despite their superb planning efforts, the unexpected can and often happens. Moreover, the VI is highly prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, tsunamis and earthquakes. Consequently, it must have a well-structured and detailed contingency plan.
In summary, planning is critical, and it should be treated as dynamic. It is linear and conceptual and should be flexible, active and rolling. Effective national planning is critical for allocating scarce resources to achieve optimum growth and development.