6 months ago

A project set to be declared 'completed' with no work done

Such failure can open Pandora's box: Dr Zahid

- Dr Zahid Hussain
- Dr Zahid Hussain

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The railway is going to declare a misspent project 'completed' without any work as it failed to get any bidder from three rounds of tender in several years, officials said.

A recent meeting of the project steering committee of Bangladesh Railway, chaired by railways secretary Dr Humayun Kabir, made the decision, three and a half years after the project was taken.

The committee in this case reviewed a technical committee's report on the difficulties to implement the project styled 'Overhauling 21 MG Diesel Electric Locomotive of Bangladesh' taken in July 2019.

The cost of the solely government-funded project was fixed at Tk 2.42 billion to make 21 locomotives fully functional. But the project is now facing closure following hurdles.

Officials said the first tender was floated in November 2019 where 14 bid documents were sold, but it received only one response even after extending submission date for five times.

However, the lone bid submitter was found technically non-responsive, thus compelling the authorities to decide to re-invite tender.

The second tender was invited in February 2021 and 10 bid documents were sold, but nobody submitted any bids. The railway then went for the third round in May 2021 by changing specifications.

However, despite changing submission date thrice, the authorities did not get any response from any of the 10 companies that bought bid documents.

Against this backdrop, the steering committee had a meeting in February 2022 to find a way forward. The meeting unanimously decided to declare the project completed without doing any work.

They also decided to carry out the overhauling of the locomotives gradually by arranging funds from the revenue budget.

However, the steering committee sat later in May 2022 and decided to form a technical committee to recommend a way out for the project.

They said further decision will be made based on the recommendations of the committee following the rules on public-sector development project preparation, processing, approval and amendment.

Project director Tabassum Binte Islam told the meeting that the development project proposal (DPP) has cited to repair the locomotives by colleting components/spare parts from the original equipment manufacturer.

Repairing the locomotives by changing control system DAS-2 and turning them into micro-based system will, therefore, be a violation of the DPP, she said reviewing the report.

According to Ms Tabassum, maintaining efficiency of locomotives, by repairing them through compromising the original equipment, may not be possible.

The technical committee assessed the conditions of 10 locomotives and said repairing three out of 21 locomotives will need excessive funds.

As the prices of spare parts have risen due to a hike in US dollar's exchange rate, repairing 21 locomotives with the previously set cost may not be possible.

The project director said the implementation of the committee's recommendations is not possible under the present DPP, thus the project can be declared completed by keeping it incomplete.

A director general of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division observed that the project's execution faced uncertainty despite redesigning the DPP in line with the recommendations.

At the meeting, the railways secretary said work on the project could be done quickly but he doubted the success of implementation by redesigning the DPP.

If the work is done under revenue budget, Mr Kabir said, repairing not more than four locomotives in a year will be possible due to fund crunch.

Thus, the meeting asked the authorities concerned to take measures to declare the project complete despite being incomplete.

Repeated attempts failed to reach Mr Kabir for comment.

Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of World Bank's Dhaka office, said such projects usually go to the ECNEC for approval after getting the nod from the ministries concerned and the planning commission.

It is surprising why the project's design had not come into question when it was railroaded through these stages, he told the FE.

"Now, the output of the project is zero after 3.5 years. Why the faulty project design had not been detected in the approval stage?" he questioned.

Mr Hussain said this project would set a precedent and open a Pandora's box of similar schemes.

Directors of many such faulty projects will spend time without any progress and will later come and say that this project is not implementable, he added.

"It seems that there is no accountability at all," observed Mr Hussain.

He said there is no point of further spending time and money in the name of redesigning the project.

"There should be some accountability. Somebody should be responsible for the project's failure."

Mr Hussain asserted that there should be some lessons learnt from this failure to avoid repetition. "This shows that the project scrutiny system doesn't works."

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