10 months ago

Getting rid of wasteful government projects  

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Though any idea of spending more than Tk 200 million to build a one-kilometre drain may appear unusual to an ordinary mind, it may not be so if one is from the government's Roads and Highways Department (RHD). In fact, the RHD has proposed a whopping Tk 8.69 billion estimate to build a drain along the 43-kilometre road under a project titled, 'Widening of Sylhet-Carkhai-Shaola highways project'. When queried, an official concerned at the RHD, as reported in the Monday's (August 9) issue of this paper, replied that the project was very important as it would activate the Shaola land port for enabling cross-border passenger and freight movement between Bangladesh and neighbouring India. Also, it would enhance regional connectivity through linking the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Road Corridor-5 as well as the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor, the official further added.

Even if it is accepted that widening of the particular section of the Sylhet-Carkhai-Shaola road is important, how does then one justify the excessively high expenditure as proposed for the project? One would then like to ask if any special kind of material is going to be used to build the drain or the entire road section in question for that matter. Additionally, Tk. 3.51 billion has been estimated for what it said as part of the project's price adjustment. And to think that the amount would be borrowed from the World Bank! Then, the story does not end here. Consider that TK 1.50 billion has been proposed for shifting utility lines, Tk 890 million as fees for consultancy, close to TK 5.0 billion for land acquisition, Tk 1.5 billion for earthwork and so on and so forth. All this is going on when the economy is reeling from high inflation, remittance from migrant workers is declining and the foreign exchange reserve is shrinking. Could not the government agency concerned consider downsizing the proposed project when the economy is under such an intense pressure?

A privately done study has shown that it is possible to cut the cost of the entire project worth Tk 38.72 billion by 66 per cent without much affecting the basic project work. Interestingly, some in the government, in the Planning Commission (PC), in particular, where the said project has been submitted for approval, seemed to be unconvinced about the merit of such a high-budget road-widening project proposal. They questioned the very rationale behind such an ambitious project involving inessential expenditures when the government in its budgetary policy for the current fiscal year has restricted such spending.

It is not only just one such case under a particular government department where a project proposal involving seemingly excessive expenditures has been suggested. There may be many more such unnecessarily costly projects under other government departments that are in the process of being implemented or may have already been implemented. But it would be quite unacceptable at a time when austerity is being practised in government-spending at all levels. The development calls for strict government monitoring of all such ongoing projects as well as those awaiting approval from relevant authorities. Thankfully, some in the authority responsible for approving RHD projects have reportedly started the process of scrutinising the proposed project. It is believed, the government would ensure accountability of all its departments and stop undertaking wasteful projects once and for all.

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