The Planning Commission is at a critical juncture insofar as implementation of the Annual Development Programme (ADP) goes. Not that the travails are anything new at this time of the year with respect to project implementation: The laggard pace and mounting concerns over cost and time overruns, quality sacrificed through haste and uncertain economic returns on projects have all a familiar ring to it! But this time it comes with a difference - on two counts. Firstly, on the heels of a measly 27 per cent ADP implementation during July-December, 2018, a repeat of the performance during the corresponding period of last fiscal, the Planning Commission realised it was high time that the pattern were reversed. So, at January-end, came the news that a roving high-powered task force led by planning minister and IMED (Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division) secretary would periodically visit divisional headquarters to monitor project implementation up close beginning from February. It would enable on-spot decision-making to accelerate the pace of work which the Dhaka-centric dispensation hardly afforded any scope for. Whilst the thoughtful move was eagerly awaited, the news of the Planning Commission having reportedly come under pressure to adopt unapproved projects in the upcoming revised annual development Programme (RADP) comes as a damper.
The narrative is concerning in some self-evident ways: Firstly, the ministries and divisions purportedly prove vulnerable to political pressure although they are in the best position to nip it in the bud; secondly, they transfer the strain on to the Planning Commission to include a large number of new projects -not backed by feasibility studies nor fund allocation - in the revised ADP. The Planning Commission has the remit to safeguard projects against breach of government rules and regulations. For, when political considerations get the better of economic justifications, the project concerned becomes inherently unviable and a misnomer of development at that. Furthermore, to press for a large number of fresh projects with only five months left to the fiscal year is to court more carry-over projects, let alone derailing the implementation process.
In the current ADP prepared in June of last fiscal, the government included a total of 1,242 unapproved projects without fund allocation. Now the figure has notched a record high of 1,664 fresh unapproved projects sans fund allocation. In contrast, the number of approved projects in the original ADP worth TK.1.73 trillion is 1,347. The imbalance between the approved and unapproved projects is tell-tale. The Planning Commission, is however busy scrutinising two sets of lists it has received from the ministries and divisions, one detailing on-going projects with fund allocations, and the second one including unapproved projects having no fund allocation. It is good to see that the commission is being selective in its approach. Among fresh projects priority will be accorded to the ones considered important for the country, and "proposed after completing feasibility studies." The criterion for ensuring feasibility of a project will have to be scrupulously followed. In end, it can hardly be overemphasised that the chafe should be separated from the grain.
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