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The Financial Express

A deliberate failure?

| Updated: October 25, 2017 01:35:48


A deliberate failure?
It is now decided that the coal-based power plant at Rampal, a place very much close to the Sundarbans, the world largest mangrove forest, will be implemented despite all the environment-related worries. 
Environmentalists, it seems, have given up in the face of strong position taken up by the government on the issue. 
So, Rampal power plant does not figure in the news very often these days. However, a project under which a six-kilometre road would be constructed to connect the power plant site with the nearby highway has of late hit the news headlines. It is all about the escalation of the cost of the road project.  
The Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) undertook the road project for implementation in January, 2014 at a cost of Tk 550 million. The deadline for completing the project was December 2015. 
The Board, according to a report published in the Financial Express last Sunday, has written to the Planning Commission (PC) seeking upward revision, more than 236 per cent, of the project cost and extension of project execution time by two more years. 
The BPDB officials blamed the changes made to the original project design and the hike in land acquisition cost for upward revision of project cost and implementation delays. 
The factors listed by the BPDB are nothing unique. The hike in project cost and the extension of implementation period have become so common with the development project execution in Bangladesh in recent years, particularly in the case of large projects.  
Both cost and implementation time of large projects do usually go up on a number of occasions. The practice has become so obvious that even laymen are suspecting foul play in it. It is hard to say that their suspicion is totally unfounded. 
The changes made to the original project design and the higher than the cost estimated originally for land acquisition are very often shown as reasons for hiking the cost of development projects. 
A Bengali contemporary ran a front-page story Saturday last on the cost hike of large development projects. It cited an example---construction of the Single Point Mooring (SPM) Terminal at the Eastern Refinery Limited (ERL) to facilitate the transfer of fuel oils from large oil tankers to the refinery--- showing that the faults in project designing do exact high costs from the national exchequer. 
Because of the fault detected at the initial period of project execution, a new design was made after carrying out necessary feasibility survey. It took quite a long time. But in the meanwhile the cost of the ERL project went up by five times to Tk 50 billion. The report mentioned a few more high-profile projects the costs of which have also gone up mainly due to faults in their designing. 
The Dhaka-Chittagong and Dhaka-Mymensingh four-lane highway projects, the Padma Bridge project are also glaring examples of project cost escalation. 
But the taxpayers have the right to know why the designs of development projects, which are supposed to be done by experts in the relevant field talking into consideration all the factors, would need change just after a few months or a year. 
The feasibility study is a sine qua non for any development project, big or small, implemented at the expense of taxpayers' money. The study results provide the basis for project designing, which is usually done by consultants, local or foreign.
It does appear that proper assessment and review of the project designs, submitted by the consultants, are not done by the government agencies responsible for executing the development projects. 
This is evident from the errors that have been detected in the case of the ongoing Maghbazar-Mouchak-Eskaton flyover project. It is being alleged that the foreign consultants concerned has prepared a wrong design out of their misconception that motor vehicles are driven left-handed in Bangladesh. 
Why would the mistake be detected in the halfway of the project execution? What did the Local Government Engineering Directorate (LGED), the agency responsible for implementation of the project do? It was the responsibility of the LGED to assess the design prepared by the consultants. It could hire the services of the relevant local experts or teachers at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).  There are talks that some of the pillars would have to be dismantled to somehow correct the flaws in the flyover design. The problem is that the agency concerned has remained tight-lipped about the lapses. 
 Similarly, the cost of land acquisition of development projects is determined after proper verification at the field level. So, here also, there should be no reason for cost of land going up. Moreover, land prices across the country, even in prime urban areas, are now very much depressed. In rural areas, many people willing to sell land are finding it hard to get prices up to their expectation. 
Going by the happenings surrounding the development projects one has ample reasons to believe that the money invested in annual development programmes does belong to proverbial 'Gouri Sen' and the government has all the rights to waste the same the way it deems fit. 
The efficiency that the government agencies show in pushing up the cost of development projects is very much non-existent when it comes to project execution. This is one area where their performance has been on a declining path. During the first seven months of the current fiscal, the rate of project execution was the lowest in recent years. The people in the know of things say the poor rate of execution is very much linked to the project cost escalation. It is a deliberate failure. 
 

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