Delays and cost overruns in Dhaka-Sylhet-Tamabil highway project
We are disappointed, but not at all surprised, to find that the project to acquire land and relocate utility service lines for expanding the Dhaka-Sylhet-Tamabil highway is likely to be delayed by two and a half years and cost double, according to the latest revision proposal of the project. It is hugely concerning that such delays and cost inefficiencies in government projects are continuing to occur, despite repeated expressions of dissatisfaction at this state of affairs from the Prime Minister herself. In fact, in February this year, she directed the authorities to take legal action against those responsible for flawed project designs that ultimately push up costs.
Such delays are not only detrimental for the project at hand, but have knock-on effects on other development projects as well. In this case, delays in clearing the land will put on hold the two major projects taken up by the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) to turn the Dhaka-Sylhet and Sylhet-Tamabil highways into dual carriageways with separate lanes for slow-moving vehicles. The physical work for this was meant to begin by June next year, and the process of floating tenders to hire contractors has already begun—but what will the contractors work on, if the land itself is yet to be acquired?
What makes the situation even more complicated is that this is the first project in Bangladesh's transport sector that is being funded by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which laid out the specific condition that the highway expansion cannot begin if the land is not cleared first. Yet, over the past three years, the project to clear the land has only progressed by about 25 percent. The delays have been attributed by RHD sources to the fact that the project proposal was based on a feasibility study and detailed design from 2015, which has undergone changes to make way for wider roads and better road safety. However, this does not in any way explain why these factors were not included in the original design in the first place.
The director of the highway expansion project told reporters that the land was supposed to be readied before starting the infrastructure building work, but "that does not happen in reality". It is disappointing to hear such acceptance of cost overruns and delays as the norm. We urge the government to investigate why we are continuing to see such lethargy, even in the case of implementing major infrastructure development projects, and take prompt actions to change this disheartening state of affairs.