Spurred by the aspiration to become a middle income country (MIC) by 2041, the government is committed to retain the accelerated pace of development activities in the days ahead. As an indispensable part of that process, there is no alternative to speed up developmental activities in the socio-economic spheres. Annual Development Programme (ADP), an organised list of projects of 17 sectors and allocations for them for implementation in a specific period of time, is one of the seminal and most effective tools of the government to execute a wide range of development projects, programmes and plans. This short-term national plan is formulated by the Programming Division of the Planning Commission under the Ministry of Planning every year.
The ADP of 2018-2019 fiscal year has some new features, more number of projects and the biggest amount of allocation. That is why, ADP of the upcoming fiscal year deserves special attention and analysis. It includes a total of 1,451 development projects. But this apparently bigger size of the ADP of the imminent fiscal year is very much anticipated since we have seen over the last few years an upward trend in terms of the volume of the ADP and the total number of development projects.
This year's ADP has come up with mammoth resource for ensuring growth for all - not just for the few. To sustain the soaring growth and ensure the equal distribution of the resource, the government is committed towards striking a balance among all the districts across the country by providing as much equal resource as possible. The common citizens must have equal access to the fruits of development. With that constitutional obligation in mind, an equal growth and development has been focused encompassing all.
Besides, the Seventh Five-Year Plan, Vision 2021 and the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN) have gone to shape the size, distribution, importance and priority of the allocation of finance under ADP this year. Proper implementation of ADP is of utmost importance as it paves the way for the smoother progress of other long-term plans. One fiscal year may seem to be a minuscule unit of time, but it carries a crucial impact. The Vision 2021 and its fulfilment largely depend on the successful implementation of all the development projects.
There are some striking features for which the ADP of this year is distinguishing from the previous ones. Firstly, it is bigger than any of the past ones. The total size of ADP in this fiscal year is Tk 1,730 billion out of which Tk 1,130 billion will be funded by the government of Bangladesh (GoB) and the remaining Tk 600 billion will be financed by various development partners. One very conspicuous thing is that the government is committed towards reducing its dependence on foreign aid and this is evidenced in the gradual diminishing of the project aid portion in the ADP. Its size is bigger than the previous ones to fulfil the demand of all the sectors (see Chart 1).
Another noticeable change is the ever-increasing number of projects. Every year, the projects are steadily growing in number. Chart 2 illustrates the growing number of projects in ADP.
Secondly, the share of foreign aid in ADP has experienced considerable rise and fall in the recent years. If we look back a few decades ago, we notice some glaring changes in the size, formulation and part of foreign aid in ADP. In 1972-73, the size of the ADP was Tk 5.01 billion, 75 per cent of which was supported by foreign aid. The ADP size has grown consistently over the years and became Tk 9.5 billion in 1975-1976, Tk 21.23 billion in 1979-1980, Tk 50.46 billion in 1987-1988 and Tk 121.00 billion in 1995-1996. The ADP remained heavily dependent upon foreign aid for the last few decades. The share of foreign funds in financing ADP allocations was more than 70 per cent until 1979-1980; it dropped to about 64 per cent in the following two years and then again increased to about 80 per cent in the next three years. The share was more than 90 per cent in the years 1987-1988 and 1990-1991. However, it started to decline in successive years and was 66 per cent in 1995-1996. In 2000-2001, the estimated size of the ADP was Tk 175 billion, about 43 per cent of which were planned to have been financed by foreign aid. In 2018-19 ADP, the contribution of foreign aid reached 34.68 per cent.
One striking change about foreign aid is that the term 'donor' has been substituted by 'development partner' as the former was disparaging and derogatory for an emerging nation like Bangladesh. The country has been successful in reducing dependence on foreign aid and what can be a better and more glittering example than 'Padma Bridge'?
There have been some changes in resource distribution due to the demand and needs although the main priority remains the same. Like the last year's ADP, transportation sector tops the table in terms of receiving the highest amount of allocation (Tk 273.19 billion), which is 26.27 per cent of the total size of ADP. Padma Multipurpose Bridge, Padma Bridge Railway Link and tunnel under the Karnaphuli River are the main projects under transportation sector that have drawn the lion's share of the total allocation under this sector. This is quite anticipated in the recent years as the government is eyeing the smoother and faster communication system all over the country, especially the mega Padma Bridge, which can positively contribute to the existing GDP growth when it opens for the public. Power, physical infrastructure, rural development and education have received 13.25 per cent, 10.34 per cent, 9.65 per cent and 9.61 per cent respectively. Labour and employment sector has the least amount of allocation (0.25 per cent).
THE CHALLENGE OF IMPLEMENTATION: There is no denying the fact that bigger ADP holds brighter hopes and prospects. But this big ADP presages some serious messages too. It should be kept in mind that promises come with pitfalls. The success of the massive ADP actually depends on the rate or percentage of the implementation and we are wretchedly lagging behind in this regard. Having resource or allocation is not the foremost issue to consider, rather the execution and utilisation of the allocated resource within the stipulated time is the key point to ponder. The lack of farsightedness of the Project Directors (PDs) badly affects the smooth and timely implementation of many projects Most of the PDs in the country are not well-trained and they do not have specialised knowledge on project planning, management and implementation process.
Besides, delayed fund disbursement also affects the progress of many projects. The government revises ADP every year due to the failure to receive disbursements of foreign aid in a general management environment of poor foreign aid utilisation. More often, delays in approval of projects, creation of appropriate infrastructure facilities, and wrong projection for the required allocation go up to call for such unwanted revisions. Needless to say that every delay affects not only the stakeholders, but also the overall national progress.
Another pressing challenge when it comes to implementation of projects is the natural intervention. Very often, especially in the rainy season, the development works are hindered due to excessive rain, flood, storm, flash flood, landslide, and erosion. To combat natural challenges, most of the allocation and activities under a project can be scheduled for accomplishment in dry season or convenient time of the year.
The comprehensive and successful implementation of ADP is an indispensable part of overall development of the economy. As far as this matter is concerned, Bangladesh has failed to exhibit expected nimbleness. But the silver lining in the cloud is that the implementation and successful utilisation of the ADP resource has taken a positive and upward trend in the recent years.
The PDs, ministries and executive agencies should be more adroit, committed and insightful in dealing with project implementation. Special projects can be taken to impart specialised knowledge on project management and implementation for the existing as well as emerging PDs to hone their skills through theoretical lessons as well as first-hand learning. This will help the PDs get required training and after testing their skills, they will be certified as the competent PDs and will be allowed to handle projects.
Besides, if the work of any certain project is finished successfully before scheduled time, the PD and involved counterparts can be rewarded for their commendable and timeliness in project implementation, which is quite common in developed countries. Australia is one of the blazing examples of this appreciable system that can act as a galvanising incentive for the PDs and people involved.
All things considered, time has come to formulate and execute long-term, visionary and effective plans and programmes. The fulfilment of 'Vision 2021' and 'Vision 2041' hinges on well-marshalled plans and their timely execution. Otherwise, the dream of a middle income country may be thwarted and distressingly prolonged. (The article has been abridged.)
Shahadat Hussein is Assistant Chief of Planning Commission under Ministry of Planning.
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