Execution of development projects has ever remained an exasperating process with rescheduling of period -- often several times -- and escalation of costs. If timely execution of projects is a grey area, the failure to utilise aid money year after year exposes endemic weaknesses at the planning and administrative levels. A report carried in this newspaper on Tuesday last refers to this fallibility in no uncertain terms. Based on information supplied by an official of the Economic Relations Division (ERD), it contends that the unused fund received as foreign aid by the country from development partners has accumulated to a staggering amount of $48 billion until December last. This amount is enough to finance the country's annual development programmes (ADP) for two years. Clearly delayed execution on rescheduling of most of the major projects is responsible for the failure to disburse funds in time and their staggering accumulation.
Now this is a tiresome litany that has been making rounds in political, civil society, intellectual and journalistic circles for decades with hardly any redress. Why? Are the implementation organs short of manpower or not enough qualified planners and executioners available in the bureaucratic set-up? So far as shortage of manpower is concerned, it can be dismissed off-handed because the number of officers on special duty (OSD) ---the other name of which is no duty at all --- is proliferating at an exponential rate. The prime minister has expressed her annoyance on several occasions at repeated rescheduling of projects. She had even had some harsh words reserved for those responsible for staggering development works and escalation of project expenditure. The ERD source finds fault with the planning of projects. Recently, a comparison between two projects ---one planned well and another with allocation first but plan later ---showed the difference. In an exceptional case, to everyone's cheer, a project was completed well ahead of schedule and had even some surplus fund retuned.
A benchmark such as this should inspire project implementers all across the spectrum to emulate the spirit and feat. Unfortunately, many complain of the lack of motivation on the part of those serving the bureaucracy. If inefficiency is a bane, it can perhaps be rectified provided that there is sincerity and dedication. But there is no redress for motivated missteps. Now that the prime minister has shown her displeasure, the laggards and the incorrigible should get the message straight and clear and things should change for the better.
The good thing is that some positive steps have already been taken in order to put matters together. Monitoring and evaluation of utilisation of project aid at tripartite quarterly meetings, half-yearly secretary-level meetings and yearly meeting in presence of the finance minister have provided some momentum but these are not enough. Nor are these a substitute for a sound plan and regular monitoring at the field level. What is needed is to capacity building at the planning stage. If planning is weak or faulty, there is no way a project can be what it should and therefore it is bound to hit many a snag with implementation time lengthening and cost escalating.