Reining in soaring project costs

Shamsul Huq Zahid | Published: December 30, 2018 22:15:21


It has become more of a routine affair for the public sector agencies to seek recurrent hike in cost of development projects and extension of the deadline for their execution.

Most project implementing agencies have taken up this bad habit, but the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) is leading the pack. The RHD is found to be very prone to hiking the cost and extending the execution time for development projects, big or small. Sometimes, the agencies make repeated requests for cost hike and time extension for the same projects.

This paper on Saturday last carried a report on the RHD's request for doubling the original cost of building a small bridge---only 200-metre long--- in Barishal. The agency has also sought extension of implementation time by one year though it got two years for building the small bridge.

Relevant statistics would reveal how the taxpayers' money is either wasted or embezzled in an organised manner by a government agency. The original cost of the said project, according to the FE report, was Tk 248.93 million. The project was taken up in 2016 and was scheduled to be completed by December 2018.

The RHD is now saying that it needs additional fund since the design of the bridge has been revised. Why should the design of a project be changed at the very end of its execution time? One can smell rat in the very intention of the executing agency.

A couple of years' time is more than enough for implementing a 200-metre bridge. In fact, the execution time should have been even shorter.

There have been allegations galore that the RHD in particular is spending abnormally high amounts on their road projects. Countries in the region are spending far less on similar road projects. Besides, the quality of road constructed by the RHD has been inferior to that of road projects in many other countries. Usually, it does not take too long a time for the newly-built roads to develop potholes or cracks. That is a cause for serious concern, for the RHD does not have enough funds for the road maintenance. Ultimately, the road users suffer, both physically and financially.

The other day a newspaper report highlighted how the vehicle owners are made to pay, in terms of additional time and fuel costs, for using bad roads, particularly the highways.

So, the taxpayers are in double jeopardy. They, on the one hand, are being made to pay additional amounts for hike in costs of projects under various pretexts and, on the other, forced later to count extra costs for using the same roads with potholes and cracks.

The issue of cost escalation of projects has come to the fore time and again. But, unfortunately, none has ever paid attention to it.

The Planning Commission (PC) appears to be helpless on this issue. Various executing agencies often seek hike in costs and extension of time for ongoing projects. In some cases, it sends back the projects making relevant queries. But, ultimately, they have to approve the revised project proposals under pressure from powerful quarters.

The government does have an agency, called Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED), for monitoring and evaluation of project implementation work. But with limited manpower and logistics it can hardly carry out its assigned jobs properly.

The truth is that government agencies responsible for implementation of projects have been enjoying free hand in the matters of project implementation. The relevant ministries, in most cases, are found to be indulgent towards errant project executing agencies under their control.

But, things should not have gone this way since everything concerning development projects involves taxpayers' money. Negligence, indifference and corrupt practices on the part of a section of unscrupulous officials of various government agencies are, to a great extent, responsible for delayed implementation of development projects and hike in their costs. Besides, funds belonging to the state are often wasted on many redundant projects.

The size of the development budget has been on the rise constantly. Questions are often raised about the quality of projects by the development practitioners. But there is, apparently, none to offer any answer to such valid queries.

Under the circumstances, there is a strong need for looking into the project implementation issue and putting in place a disciplinary mechanism for the agencies involved with planning and execution of development projects.

Since the Planning Commission and the IMED are not being able to correct the situation in relation to development project execution, the government should devise some mechanism and constitute an effective entity to carry out that task without any further delay. However, the policymakers should not do anything in a half-hearted manner, for it might create more problems than addressing the moot issue.

zahidmar10@gmail.com 

 

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