National household database: Botched execution leaves it unusable
The long-awaited Tk 727 crore National Household Database that is expected to be delivered later this year will not yield the desired outcome for which the project was implemented, said a recent report of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division.
"Based on the current status, it can be said that the project's output is unusable," said the IMED in a report.
The report, which was released last week, provided a damning picture of the execution of the project by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and the Department of Disaster Management (DDM).
Taken up in 2013 with support from the World Bank, the project was supposed to create the country's maiden poverty registry by 2017 to better target the social safety schemes and subsequently aid in accelerating poverty alleviation.
Eight years on, the database is yet to be ready and, in that time, the project has gone through four revisions that have raised its cost by 112.75 percent and duration by five years.
As of April, its physical progress stands at 92 percent and financial progress at 87 percent, according to the IMED report.
The NHD is supposed to be completed by December this year.
In his letter to the World Bank on March 2 seeking $250 million budget support for fiscal 2022-23, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said the database would be used to disburse this year's social safety net allocation of Tk 113,576 crore.
If the faulty NHD is used, it will not be possible to correctly identify the poor and the ultra-poor and bring them under the social safety net programmes and lift them out of poverty, the IMED report said.
When the project was taken up in 2013, it was decided that the computer-assisted personal interview (CAPI) and intelligent character recognition (ICR) methodologies would be deployed to capture information from the form of 37 questions.
But there were too many inconsistencies in the data collected from 3.5 crore families from 64 districts in three phases in 2017 and 2018, according to the report.
"Even though several consultants were appointed, there are inconsistencies in the database. That's why it seems that the consultants did not perform their tasks properly."
In 2016, 545 data entry operators were recruited but they were not given any defined tasks or responsibilities.
The BBS also did not assign an experienced officer, as a result of which the project could not be implemented properly.
Although the terms of reference for editing the collected, data capturing and correction were well articulated, the contracted firm did not edit the data adequately.
And the issue with data editing was not raised in the meetings of the project implementation committee (PIC) and project steering committee (PSC), according to the IMED report.
The project had many IT consultants and senior programmers of BBS working on it but they did not do any noticeable work.
Subsequently, an erroneous database has been created.
Since the project's implementation began in July 2013, there should have been at least 35 PIC meetings. In reality, there were only nine PIC meetings and 15 PSC meetings.
Because of the scanty meetings, important decisions and project implementation were delayed.
If the errors detected in the database are not corrected, it would not be possible to meet the objectives of the project: effective targeting of the poor and the ultra-poor.
Many names were erased and there are numerous content errors, Shahnaz Arefin, secretary of the statistics and informatics division, told journalists after June 26's meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council.
The problems arose as the database was shifted twice and each time the entries got replaced wrongly.
"We are rectifying it now. This should be done by September."
But the DDM, which would be receiving the cleaned-up database from the BBS, does not have its management information system (MIS), where the NHD would be housed, ready yet.
"We do not have a server to keep that database with us," Arefin said, adding that the BBS cannot be held responsible for the delay in DDM's failure to have an operational MIS yet.