By Denzil Indrajith Perera
The most-awaited Budget 2021 has been presented to Parliament. After its inevitable approval, the ministers, state ministers, and ministries will be assigned with tasks, responsibilities, and authorities to execute budget proposals. What else is new?
The answer is the new normal. The execution of strategies will not be as easy as it would have been under normal circumstances. Unlike in private sector budgets, one of the salient features of a government budget is that most of the budget is spent or incurred on various activities which inevitably include public services such as transportation and education as well as essential services such as health and security. Some of the ministers, state ministers, and ministries would get the opportunity of meeting the requirements simply by spending these allocated budgets. However, it will not be the case for some.
The Sri Lankan economy was sinking due to various reasons and we were only above Afghanistan in the region in terms of our economic growth when the current President came into power. At the same time, with the attack in April 2019, the economy had a massive dent which was barely recovering when Covid-19 hit the economy again within a span of less than a year in March 2020.
In this backdrop, the Government didn’t have many choices to make instead of focusing on safeguarding the rupee as the exchange rate went beyond Rs. 200 against the US dollar. Imports were curtailed to reduce the balance of payment. However, certain sectors had to be kept open for manufacturers to bring down raw materials, especially for the food and beverage sector and export-oriented businesses that could bring much-needed foreign currency to the country. It seemed to be the best solution at that point of time, as it could increase the export income when converted to LKR and also save dollars which otherwise would have gone out of the country. Is it all or is there anything else that needs to be done to achieve intended economic goals with this budget?
How to set KPIs for ministers and ministries?
All the ministers and state ministers should be assigned with set KPIs (key performance indicators) against the objectives that are to be achieved with their portfolios. With the greatest difficulty, the Government has allocated funds for ministries to achieve certain milestones in their respective areas of operations. Is there any mechanism set for achieving the goals of five years and objectives for the next year before the Budget 2022?
It’s advisable to set interim KPIs – maybe quarterly to be set against each portfolio of ministries to review with the Ministry of Finance and maybe with a special presidential task force. But the prerequisite for implementation success would depend on how independent the presidential task force is in carrying out their reviews against set goals and objectives for each ministry.
Would setting KPIs be enough?
Setting KPIs is not going to be enough. It should be reviewed and also be communicated to the general public through electronic and social media to maintain transparency of all the ministers’ performances. All ministers should be held responsible for reaching their goals and targets – not only meeting spending goals, but also meeting revenue-generation goals. For example, there is a considerable budget allocated for certain sectors such as dairy farming and milk production for exports, manufacturing of medicines in Sri Lanka, and promoting agriculture and agri-based products. The ultimate KPI should be: Revenues generated through these sectors to the economy, number of jobs offered to the job market, the amount of foreign currencies generated, etc. The Ministry of Finance, together with an independent body, should review the strategies and also produce a gap analysis along with alternate strategies and corrective actions to reach the goals and objectives set for the current year and for the five years.
How would the diplomats be a part of this process?
As per information gathered, there are 20 Sri Lankans who live in China, serving as diplomats, who are still not capable of communicating in Mandarin (Chinese). China is one of the most potential countries with a growing middle-class of about 600 million people who lavishly spend on quality products, if produced to meet expectations and standards and also marketed well. But are we ready? The answer may be “no” for most of the diplomats who live overseas. They may be too busy with private affairs and business matters than serving the national interest. Therefore, it’s high time that the Government set KPIs for those who have been sent from Sri Lanka for diplomatic services in various countries.
What are the most likely KPIs for diplomats who represent Sri Lanka in other countries?
The fundamental requirement is to be able to communicate in the respective foreign language at least within six months of being in a particular countryIdentify the expectations of the consumers in the respective markets and communicate them to Sri Lankan institutes that are responsible in promoting exports in Sri LankaIdentify quality standards of each country and bridge the knowledge gap between Sri Lanka and other countries by being the sole contact point in case if there is any issue with regard to quality standard variations, and also set up platforms to iron-out issuesPromote trade between the two countries and set targets for volume and value for salesIncrease bilateral agreements between the two countries to be able to trade more value-added products Promote FDI (foreign direct investment) opportunities in Sri Lanka in a beneficial way to Sri Lanka
Enabling democracy is the best way to progress
As the general public is responsible for appointing politicians to Parliament to represent them, which is known as “democracy”, they should also be able to know as to what each parliamentarian or minister and his/her ministries are capable of achieving. This has to be facilitated through the communication of performance of each minister, state minister, and other officials who are serving the general public with their portfolios. Therefore, enabling democracy by means of communicating what actions are taken by each appointed minister/state minister and what results are achieved, how much has been spent, and how much is earned would be the best way to gauge if the general public has made the right choice or not.
There will be no need of having a colossal amount of money spent when elections are going to be held at the end of the tenure of each minister, as the general public would already know who has performed and who has not. Therefore, holding them accountable is not going to be enough, which will give them the option of stating as to why they failed, which an easy way is out. The way forward mechanism should be assigning them with the ownership of the tasks on their hands for which they will have to find a way of executing for results.
(The writer is a business strategist and brand and marketing professional, and also the current President of the Postgraduate Institute of Management Alumni [PIMA]. He has over 15 years of sales and branding experience at ACL Cables, Marina Foods, Union Assurance, Hemas Holdings, and Sri Lanka Insurance, and is currently the General Manager at Hayleys Aventura)