Reliable, advanced and efficient infrastructure is indispensable for every nation. Better infrastructure drives economic growth, facilitates trade and commerce, considerably lowers the cost of production and transportation, enables improved incorporation of the national economy into the world order and advances quality of life of the people. The socio-economic benefits of infrastructure development can hardly be over-exaggerated.
The core infrastructure that a country gives priority includes roads and bridges, railways, telecommunication, water supply, power and energy, sea and airports, etc. Besides contributing to faster and inclusive growth and development, good quality infrastructure reduces poverty and ensures economic opportunities.
Unfortunately, despite the commendable improvement of infrastructure during the past decade, it remains weak, inadequate, and undeveloped in Bangladesh. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness index for 2018 ranked the quality of infrastructure of Bangladesh 103rd out of a total of 140 countries.
Despite the significant increase in the capacity of electricity production, Bangladesh continues to face power shortage. The current per capita consumption of electricity (yearly about 300-kilowatt hours) remains one of the lowest in the world.
Thus, the prevailing inadequate access to essential services such as road and road transportations, power and energy, better water supply and sanitation system confront the people. In the metropolitan areas, delays caused by traffic congestion and power failures add to the suffering of the people and burden the economy considerably. Both directly impact people's desired quality of life and threaten national productivity.
Hence, Bangladesh desperately needs improved, dependable and efficient infrastructure for the rapid socio-economic transformation of the country. Economists agree that infrastructure development has the potential to provide a robust economic stimulus through a 'multiplier effect'.
However, public investment in infrastructure in Bangladesh has remained small to address the country's mounting needs. Mainly due to lack of funds, investment in infrastructure has been about 2.0 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) annually.
Quite a few development partners as well as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, United States Agency for International Development, Canadian International Development Agency, Islamic Development Bank, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, Department for International Development of the United Kingdom, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and others are actively supporting infrastructural development projects in Bangladesh.
In recent times, in order to improve infrastructure, the Bangladesh government has given priority to rapid implementation of ten mega public projects, including the Padma Bridge, 2400 MW Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, and Matarbari power plant, LNG Terminal in Maheshkhali, Paira Deep Sea Port, Padma Rail Link, and Dhaka Metro Rail. The successful completion of the projects will be a game-changer for Bangladesh, attract more foreign investment, and empower the country in raising its GDP by 3.0 to 4.0 per cent.
However, to deliver them on time and within budgetary allocations, it is essential for projects to be implemented with practical guidelines and greater transparency and accountability. Schedule delays, corruption, and cost overruns are inherent features in public construction projects imposing unnecessary tax burden on the people. The deadline for the completion of the state-funded Padma multipurpose bridge construction has been extended for the fourth time to December 2019. The total project expense has also been revised to Tk 3925.58 billion (39,258.13 crore), which is almost four times its original projected cost of Tk 101.61 billion (10,161 crore).
Recently, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Country Director Manmohan Parkash underscored that faster and better-quality project implementation would further accelerate the pace of development and spread benefits "more equitably" in Bangladesh. He also emphasised three pillars of faster project implementation i.e. (a) efficient procurement, (b) sound contract management, and (c) good governance. Indeed, besides these essential "pillars," during the implementation stage of all public projects, their continuous monitoring is crucially important.
Bangladesh needs nation-wide better, reliable, and high performing infrastructure to drive growth and improve living standards. Unquestionably, timely completion of quality infrastructure projects is crucial for poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth, employment generation, access to local and global markets, and safeguarding national security.
Dr Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.