The Roads and Highways Department's submission of the second revision proposal for completion of 29-kilometre Jamalpur-Madarganj road-widening work is nothing but the perennial problem bedevilling the country's development projects. Unacceptable delay and outrageous cost escalation are synonymous with implementation of almost all development projects here. Yet some are tolerable but there are projects like the road-widening work of only 29-km stretch at Jamalpur which cross all limits and defy rationality. Originally estimated at Tk 543 million, the project was scheduled to be completed by June 2017. The cost was raised to Tk 664.6 million with an extension of time up to June 2018. Now the implementers have another submission for revision of fund to Tk 1.28 billion, an increase of 137 per cent expenditure on the original proposal. Also, they have sought another two years' time extension for completion of the project.
Under the scrutiny of the Planning Commission (PC), as its officials claim, this is not a mega project by any standard. Widening of a 29-km long road is not a challenging task unless it involves mountainous areas several thousand feet higher than the sea level. The PC has termed it an unusual project and commented on the poor capacity of the executing agency. But such comments should not be enough. There is need for taking the agency to task. Already four years have passed and there is need for an authentic assessment of the performance of the implementers. Whether the money has been rightly spent or misused should be identified by a thorough appraisal of the works undertaken so far. If there is indication of foul play, the top bosses of the executing agencies should be taken to the court in order to give them the opportunity to explain how they have spent the money and why they need more time and money to complete the project.
Common sense, however, dictates that the agency responsible for completion of the job did not do their homework. It has referred to redesigning of the road. Now who has initiated the redesign? After four years, this is an outlandish proposal. If the RHD has asked for it now, surely the executing agency has a point. But even this can be nullified on the ground that by June 2017, the project was supposed to be completed. So, there is no scope of asking for any change in the shape and structure of the project and raising the amount of expenditure money. All this shows there is something fishy about the project.
In this country, this tradition of project execution has badly bled its economy. People responsible for project execution have come up with ploys -one after another -seeking extension of time and additional fund. Hardly one large project has ever been completed on schedule and with the originally sanctioned fund. The executing agencies have felt encouraged to look for excuses for deadline extension and cost escalation. Had there been clear-cut planning and timely execution, the country could have saved a huge amount of money, enough for completion of almost equal number of more such projects. Also there is use of substandard materials leading to shortening the lifespan of infrastructure. All this should be strictly regulated in order to bring discipline in the sector. Both callous and wilful defaulting parties should be punished so that the culture of project mismanagement comes to an end once for all.
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