Funds sanctioned for the development projects remain unused and one of the major reasons behind this is lack of strong leadership
To boost the economic development of the country, the Government of Bangladesh invests heavily on the Annual Development Programme (ADP) to implement development projects every year. Bangladesh government allocated Tk2,15,114 crore for the ADP in the current 2019-20 fiscal year. According to the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division report, different ministries and divisions have only spent Tk56,712.57 crore on ADP projects during the first six months of the current fiscal year, which is only 26.36 percent of the total ADP allocation.
But why the ADP funds are remaining unused is a puzzle that needs solving. Since the country became independent in 1971, it has become a trend that at the end of every fiscal year the ministries return bulks of unused fund to the government.
A former senior bureaucrat of Bangladesh, who wants to remain anonymous, shows his concern over the implementation of ADP. He said that the ADP has been moving ahead slowly due to lack of coordination and proper policy guidelines. Additionally, he pointed to some of the problems that occurs before implementing a project such as the delay in preparation and approval of projects, difficulties in land acquisition, and lack of strong leadership to initiate the development works.
There are two approaches for implementation of development projects – programme approach and project approach. But different countries around the world resolve their development issues either through projects or the programme approach based on their necessity.
Surprisingly, in Bangladesh, we have both project and programme approach and different ministries, divisions and agencies are in the charge of proper execution of the projects.
As diverse personnel remain in charge of the implementation of projects and programmes, there will be problems at different phases of the project implementation. But problems like delay in submission of project documents, delay in project approval, release of funds for the projects, misappropriation of funds, hassle in land acquisition and lack of strong leadership are common in Bangladesh.
Every year ADP includes some projects without any allocation. In these cases project implementation authority (different agencies and organisations) takes a long time to prepare a Development Project Proforma (DPP) and submit it for initial scrutiny to the relevant ministries, which later on are forwarded to the Planning Commission for approval. Later funds are sanctioned for the projects and based on the funds the agencies start working on implementing the projects.
But due to long procedure and delay in preparing and approving the DPP and several revisions of the DPP, the commencement date of the project is deferred.
Also the documents related to the projects keep revolving from one ministry to another and this certainly adds to the woes of the project implementing authority, further delaying the procedure.
Land acquisition is a critical factor in project implementations because construction works cannot start without getting the land. But there are legal procedures involved here which adds to the delay in implementation of the project works.
Apart from the approval and release of funds for the projects and land acquisition, strong leadership is the biggest obstacle for implementing the ADP. The former bureaucrat pointed out that in most of the cases the government appoints senior government officials as project directors – most of whom are on the way out, nearing retirement.
According to the bureaucrat, sometimes the project directors lack competence and as their retirement is just around the corner, so they want to work from within a comfort zone. As such they fail to take a strong position and effective measures in implementing the projects.
On Tuesday, Planning Minister MA Mannan told the press, "Though implementation dropped slightly, a total of Tk7,067.77 crore more has been spent this year, compared to that in the previous fiscal year. It is a remarkable achievement."
The planning minister has also met with project implementing officials several times. He has gone to divisional headquarters to identify the field-level issues that each project director usually face.
After the minister's visits he found numerous reasons for implementation delay. Though Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made it mandatory for project directors to stay at project sites, in many cases, it was found that project directors were not staying at project sites. Also, many were found to be overseeing more than one project at a time.
But there should be a way out of this situation and completing ADPs in a timely manner as these are related to the economic development of the country. Dr Zaid Bakht, research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies suggests that to implement the projects in a timely manner an effective inter-ministerial committee needs to be formed which will continuously monitor the works of ADP and take necessary action whenever there is a problem for proper implementation of the projects.
There are researchers who believe that the work should start at the planning level. They suggest that strengthening the Planning wing of the Administrative Ministries is almost urgent for success of any project. Also there is a need to stop the misuse of project vehicles and equipment.
It is also suggested that, use of project implementation techniques by the project management should be enhanced and to realize the cost of the projects from the beneficiaries' point of view is really essential to observed. Timely recruitment and training of manpower of a project to strengthening of the Economic Relations Division with combination of relaxation of rules and regulations should be ensured. And most importantly, appointment of a full time project director right from the project preparation stage is always to be required.