Amount hiked for projects this FY could make another Padma bridge
A culture of project revision has become ingrained in our country -- and a vicious circle has been created
That project revisions have become a government ailment is well established by now.
But how big a malaise it is has come to the fore this fiscal year: a second Padma bridge could be built with the additional amount allocated to the revised projects so far, raising serious questions about the project implementation procedures of the ministries.
In today's meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council, three projects would be tabled for amendment, to take this fiscal year's tally of project revisions to 31.
If the three projects' revisions get the nod, the additional costs for the 31 projects would come to Tk 29,471 crore.
In contrast, the ambitious Padma bridge, a much-cherished project of the government, cost Tk 30,192 crore.
"A culture of project revision has become ingrained in our country -- and a vicious circle has been created," said Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
First, a project is passed and then its budget is increased by making delays, he said.
And this inefficiency is ultimately borne by the taxpayers.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed discontent over the issue on several occasions and gave directives on formulating appropriate project plans to check cynical project revisions. But it fell on deaf ears.
Projects keep getting revised and those responsible for the revisions are never held to account.
While the reasons for revisions vary from one project to another, there are some common factors like complexities in land acquisition, lengthy procurement process and absence of proper feasibility studies, according to experts and officials.
It takes at least two years to pass the development project proposal (DPP), according to Rahman.
Due to the time taken to get the projects approved, the estimates based on which the proposals are prepared become dated, almost always necessitating additional funds.
"So, it's a problem that remains inbuilt," Rahman said.
In many cases, the DPPs are not prepared in a professional way, so many flaws remain in the proposals.
Besides, delays in the bidding process and corruption are the reasons for the cost overruns and time extension, he added.
Some delays also happen in the procurement process mainly due to the import of machinery and lack of specialised manpower, according to planning ministry officials.
Improper feasibility study is one of the major bottlenecks for the timely and smooth implementation of development projects.
Because of it, the project authorities often include several components after taking up a project, which ultimately increases the costs and time, they added.
Take the case of the project to upgrade the link of Ashuganj river port-Sarail-Dharkhar-Akhaura land port, which will be placed for revision today along with the Dhaka Water Supply Network Improvement project and the Gopalganj District Important Rural Infrastructure Improvement project.
The 50.56-kilometre highway project has included new work components such as land acquisition, construction of flexible pavements, rapid pavements, drains, bridges, railway overpass, foot overbridges, culverts and others.
As a result, the cost of the project, implemented with the Indian line of credit, would increase by a staggering 62.3 percent to Tk 5,791.6 crore and its implementation period by three years to June 2025.
There should not be so many revisions because when the time is overrun it increases the costs, Shamsul Alam, state minister for planning, told The Daily Star.
"Our prime minister is very much concerned about the issue and so are we. We are trying to improve our project management and decision-making processes considering all these possibilities so that we can cut down on revisions."
However, there are some plausible reasons for project delays.
The implementation period of a project usually ranges from three to six years.
"But once the project kicks off, many things change inside and outside the country. One such example is the pandemic. We never imagined that something like this would ever happen. Besides, many new realities come to the fore after the start of the project."
The government also did not have experience in implementing mega projects, whose management is very complex as it involves multifaceted procurements.
"Economic projection is not always 100 percent correct. We are trying to make it 70 percent accurate. There will be revisions of projects in future, but we are trying to gradually reduce the numbers," Alam added.
Rahman recommended project management by professionals and execution by skilled manpower to overcome the problem.
"e-procurement is a good initiative and it has to be strengthened. At the same time, the capacity of the ministries concerned will have to be enhanced."