Use M&E Frameworks to re-plan broken economy amidst COVID-19

[By Dr Vincent Kanyamuna]

THE last three months the world has been shocked economically, socially, culturally, institutionally, psychologically, intellectually, medically, politically and indeed spiritually! COVID-19 or fully the ‘coronavirus’ outbreak has ravaged the global socio-economy beyond human imagination! Hundreds of thousands of people have been left infected while others dead. Others are still getting infected and many feared to lose their lives to the deadly disease. While the world is yet to find a medical solution, life dynamics have changed – the greatest being global economic meltdown. The feared negative impact is huge across all the 195 countries and individual households. As things stand, businesses and investments globally are under serious threat for closure and possible extinction. Others have already folded while many have officially handed over letters of separation with their operational staff.

I took time to see through the many concerns of governments, private sector institutions, civil society, small and medium enterprises as well as individual businesses and households. The resounding question is: how and shall we ever get over COVID-19 and sustain our businesses and lives? Profit has already been swallowed and production has stalled or completely shut. Professionals have given some hints on possible negative effects. In Zambia for instance, the Minister of Finance Dr. Bwalya Ng’andu warned of problems globally and across the Zambian economy—slowdown of global economy, slowdown of global trade, plummeting of commodity prices and capital flights in the financial market. Domestically, COVID-19 will slow down our country’s economic growth, slowdown the tourism and mining sectors, lead to depreciated Kwacha thereby increasing the cost of debt servicing and slowdown in trade. He also gave a questionable hope that the 2020 annual inflation would be sustained at 6 per cent. Additionally, interest and exchange rates will also worsen, making the cost of doing business extremely unaffordable for many.

Given the above, my urge to all business houses, including governments and all other development agencies is not to mix actions and reactions in the midst of COVID-19 fight. There need not be too many reflex actions or emotionally charged decisions to sustain entities. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) gives a comprehensive professional environment under which investments and businesses could be kept aloof and sustainable in the verge of COVID-19. Already you may be asking why and how M&E would be of significance in salvaging economies and businesses? I am saying ‘YES’ M&E should be the only structural approach to bring sanity to the business. Particularly, I ask all business and development entities to revert to their original (pre- COVID-19 periods) M&E frameworks (if any) and let them be their basis for strategic economic sustenance, repair and rebuilding.

An M&E framework is a basic description of a government, organisation, project or programme goals, objectives, impact, outcomes, outputs, processes and inputs. It refers to a structure, skeleton or the basis upon which the function of M&E is undertaken. The main purpose of an M&E framework is to have a coordinated and effective M&E mechanism that will support evidence-based decision-making and accountability in any institution. The framework is supposed to be anchored on providing a comprehensive and objective basis for measuring organisational performance and defining roles and responsibilities of stakeholders. In that regard, my guess is that the Zambian government, private sector organisations, civil society organisations, small and medium enterprises, donors and other development and business entities have clearly articulated M&E frameworks. Typically, these M&E frameworks should spell out the organisational vision, mission, focus areas, goals, objectives, strategies and prioritised interventions. The frameworks should further elucidate results expected, that is, what outputs, outcomes and impacts for given periods, e.g. in 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, etc. These should be accompanied with clearly stated results-indicators, baselines, targets and realistic milestones.

Undeniably so, the Zambian government is currently implementing the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP 2017 to 2021). This is our development road map which, in the face of COVID-19 is supposed to guide the nation even under this pandemic. Instead of merely complaining and running in all directions trying to do copy-cuts from other countries, our government is expected to be solid around how do we use our national planning and budgeting mechanisms to re-plan our development strategy as a country. Using the M&E framework for the 7NDP, which of the five pillars and resources do we adjust to support the fight against COVID-19? Which programmes, indicators and targets should we reduce or suspend to systematically tackle the COVID-19 question? Which ones should we keep on implementing to support economic growth and stability? These should have been the preoccupation of technocrats, experts and leaders in our government ministries and departments, including the presidency. Why this line of thought? I know that Zambia has a life beyond COVID-19 and that life will be reverting to the 7NDP aspirations and other institutional plans and M&E frameworks to pursue growth and development.

To date, I have been watching and hearing government officials, our president included making frantic efforts to curb COVID-19—which I personally appreciate. Non-state actors have also spoken (civil society, opposition political leaders, donor community, etc). Alas! There is a void in clarifying that the efforts we are making are within our national or organisational M&E or strategic planning frameworks. So far, all I am hearing are resources being mobilised towards COVID-19 but these efforts are kind of hanging in the vacuum, out of balance. I then start worrying about abuse and corruption in the use of these resources. Accountability, transparency and the overall results-approach gets detrimentally affected. When COVID-19 shall be over, how do we connect the dots and continue our journey of development using the existing M&E frameworks like the 7NDP? I am certain that if we are not systematically using our M&E frameworks to fight COVID-19, every organisation will feasibly struggle to return to normalcy.

My fears are that our socio-economic players in Zambia have very weak culture of results. Across the public and private sectors, institutions do not even have in place minimum functions for M&E. Even large institutions such as those in manufacturing and retail lack M&E frameworks to give them solid assurance for business success. I also know that our government is today a victim of weak M&E and in the midst of COVID-19, it is practically a challenge for our leaders to coordinate efforts around a winning strategy which takes care of life during and after the pandemic. It will be prudent for once that all organisations invest in articulating M&E frameworks going forward. M&E frameworks will help us make quick and sound decisions for our country and organisations. Leaderships will inspire citizens, workers and customers with functional M&E frameworks—in hard times like this one. Aluta continua for a results-based Zambia!

Dr. Kanyamuna holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Monitoring and Evaluation and is lecturer and researcher at the University of Zambia, Department of Development Studies. For comments and views, email: vkanyamuna@unza.zm

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