MOST developing countries cobble together elaborate development plans, typically setting it out in five-year plans that tell how they will generate jobs, create new industries and feed their people.
With all the good intentions, the development plans of most developing countries fail. Yet, a few countries, particularly those in East Asia, planned so efficiently they spectacularly lifted their countries out of poverty.
Why do some developing countries' development plans fail and others succeed?
The first element of success is that political leaders must be serious about wanting to lift their people out of poverty in the shortest time.
There has to be the appropriate urgency from political leaders to develop their countries quickly. The Japanese, following defeat in World War One, felt their country, culture and existence was in peril: they would be annihilated by enemies in the West and the East, unless they quickly matched them in development, economic growth and technological know-how.
Successful development usually starts with a dedicated unit, ministry or commission that coordinates planning across the economy. Importantly, that unit must have absolute backing of the president or prime minister.
The person leading such a unit must have the confidence, technical ability and drive to push aside vested interests and pursue the development targets set out.
Importantly, targets must be set for economic growth, factories built, children educated and so on. These targets must be single-mindedly pursued.
Those staffing the planning unit must be the best minds the country has to offer.
The development plans of most developing countries failed before they even started because their planning structures became an employment agency to reward political allies, family members or those from the same ethnic group, but who lacked the technical skills.
At the heart of proper planning is to coordinate policies, whether fiscal, monetary or social, across government. One cannot allow a policy pursued by one department, agency or sphere to cancel out the outcomes of another. Planning cannot succeed without strong measures of accountability.
Experts must be put in charge of performing a task, and fired if they don't deliver.
The implementation of policies must be carefully monitored. If the government announces it will build 100000 homes a year, it must carefully monitor, even monthly, that the homes are actually being built, on time, according to the minimum standards and quality.
If things go wrong there must be early intervention to change things, not five years thereafter.
Finally, for planning to succeed in South Africa, the three new departments - the planning commission, economic development ministry and monitoring and evaluation ministry - must not only be staffed with the best the nation has to offer, but must work together.
Together, they must integrate policy-making across government, see that only the best policies are produced and then closely monitor the implementation of these policies.
l Gumede is author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC