Using technologies is key to speeding up ADP execution
The implementation of the Annual Development Programme (ADP) in Bangladesh has been severely affected by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the last 17 months. As the country entered the new financial year on July 1, now is an appropriate time to review last year's ADP execution, learn from the challenges faced, and take stringent measures to improve the rate of implementation this year.
The current and last two years' ADP have had the same Covid-19 related challenges that the implementing ministries should take into account and tackle from the early part of this fiscal year. These are, first of all, the challenge of mobilising the projected revenue from internal sources, borrowing from financial institutions and securing the expected foreign loans and grants. Secondly, slow pick-up of project-related procurements, delay in release of imported goods from the ports and late recruitment of project staff and consultants. Thirdly, inadequate monitoring and supervision of field activities to ensure quality implementation due to extended lockdowns and closure of offices. That the health ministry performed poorly in executing last year's budget is well known, but there are other ministries whose execution levels were also less than 50 percent.
The current year's budget (2021-2022) is the 50th budget of Bangladesh. The total amount of ADP proposed in the budget is Tk 225,324 crore, which is 6.5 percent of GDP. The five sectors which received the highest ADP allocation are: transportation and communication, power and fuel, housing and community facilities, education, and health. The first two sectors have been allocated 48 percent of total ADP allocation. These five sectors have a total number of 743 projects out of a total of 1,426 projects included in the ADP. A huge amount of construction work is included in the top five sectoral projects requiring procurement and physical work. As many as 141 projects have foreign grants and loan components in them, with a total amount of USD 41.6 billion. Due to various reasons, 24.1 percent of the projects included in the ADP have been revised from one to three times already.
Those ministries which didn't achieve up to 50 percent implementation level last year should undertake a planned approach to the implementation of their projects from the beginning of this year. They should start floating the tenders, followed by assessment of the bids and complete the procurement formalities in good time. In case of construction projects, the government should allow professionals like the engineers and workers to work in the same spirit as the health sector professionals who are considered as essential staff, provided they follow the Covid-19 health regulations and get vaccinated. Instead of keeping the offices closed, the government staff should work remotely during the lockdown period and continue their operations.
Many countries have experimented and devised good remote working mechanisms to continue their project execution in both public and private sectors. In Bangladesh, the banking sector showed remarkable resilience and their capital adequacy, asset quality, profitability and liquidity have been praiseworthy during the last two years. The NGOs have also been maintaining their critical operations at a satisfactory level. They have been building awareness of infection prevention measures among the communities, distributed personal hygiene products to the poor households and supplied personal protective equipment to staff who work on the frontline. We can learn from their experiences and adopt the good practices.
One major constraint during this pandemic, especially during the lockdown, is the inability to be physically present in the project-sites by government engineers and supervisors. To overcome this challenge, some government departments on a sample basis have started using remote devices such as mobile phone, computer and camera for real-time monitoring of project-work using WhatsApp. Many projects have also started disbursing funds through government's digital platform, which should be made universal as quickly as possible. Many private companies, banks and NGOs have started doing the same and in addition, they have regularised video conferencing, on-line training, performance analysis and reporting, by using IT equipment and software. These new communication tools have been widely used in the developed countries in the last one year and they are thinking of continuing their use in future since they have cut costs significantly by adopting these technologies and skills. The projects included in the ADP should use these technologies and enhance their implementation rate.Bangladesh needs to address the infrastructure gaps in all sectors through increased public investment, and ADP is the main channel to fill this gap. However, the government needs to prioritise only the good projects. The ministries should be strict about screening and appraisal of projects so that the most important ones are included in the ADP and they are adequately funded. There is a critical need to enhance technical capacity in the government ministries in these areas. Timely implementation of good projects can help increase the growth rate. We need to enhance ADP implementation which will contribute to achieving pre-Covid GDP growth rate.
The total stimulus packages given during this pandemic by the government so far amount to Tk 128,441 crore (4.59 percent of GDP) from which Tk 940 billion (73 percent) is for the private investors, and the rest for the poorest and disadvantaged people and families. This shows that a significant amount of public resources have been made available to the private sector. The developed countries that have made good progress on vaccination and contained the rate of Covid-19 transmission have resumed their normal economic activities, and our export opportunities to those countries have reopened now. We need to give a boost to public sector projects, to enhance employment opportunities and effective demand, and increase export. The government has made a policy move towards supply side push by incentivising the business sector through such measures as reducing corporate taxes, lowering bank interest rates and allowing delayed repayment of bank loans, in addition to giving a number of stimulus packages. In order to match these incentives, demand side measures should be strengthened as well, by enhancing project implementation, for an early recovery of the economy.
Dr Nawshad Ahmed, an ex-UN official, is an economist and urban planner. Dr AKM Kamruzzaman, Team Leader, Technical Support Unit, Bangladesh Municipal Water Supply and Sanitation Project.