Implementation time frames should be strict for both foreign aid and government projects
The planned implementation timeframe of Annual Development Programme (ADP) projects is three to four years – on average. In practice, however, ADP project implementation is usually delayed for years.
According to the Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) of the planning commission, there are some traditional reasons for the slow implementation of ADP projects. These include land acquisition, a delay in initiating tendering and other necessary work, plus frequent changes of project directors.
It is said that land acquisition takes a lot of time and the projects are expanded due to overpricing and myriads of political issues.
Foreign aid projects demand feasibility studies and reports at the outset – ones that are often not required by domestically-funded projects. The negotiation process thus takes a lot of time.
Project directors have said they are delayed because they do not have money on hand in the first two quarters – July to September and October to December. The finance division pledges to release the money but is delayed.
However, a recent government gazette has changed this – project directors now have money on hand in the first two quarters. Sadly, even with early allocations of money, business remains as usual – as far as implementation status is concerned.
Instead of smooth project implementation, "fourth quarter syndrome" has emerged. This "syndrome" sees slow implementation and expenditures in the first three quarters. In the final quarters, especially in June, around 21 to 30 percent of the expenditures are done hastily – whereas the first three quarters spend roughly 45 percent to 50 percent of allocations on average.
As a result, the concern is not whether one can spend this all or not, but about the quality of work one produces in a month.
Each year hundreds of projects are undertaken – but many are not implemented on time. As a result, both the timeframe and the costs increase. The projects that are supposed to end in five years take years and years and eventually become zombie projects.
It is time to get rid of zombie projects such as the Tannery Industrial Estate which has dragged on for around 16 years.
Such delays are explicit examples of the concerned authority's failure to implement projects on time. Another example is the ongoing Padma Bridge construction.
There are various explanations for the delays, but one understands that they are due to a failure of a proper feasibility study having been conducted during the initial project phase.
Appropriate appraisal and feasibility studies, plus costing, should be conducted at the introduction stage of a project – which sadly is not happening.
If such processes are followed, the problems that arise in the middle of project implementation can be sorted out at the outset.
Unfortunately, in some cases, delays are intentional – resulting in a project becoming a zombie project. Additionally, in some cases, projects are initiated in political consideration with symbolic allocations of Tk1 lakh to Tk1 crore – which cannot be implemented in a timely manner.
Moreover, implementing agencies are supposed to submit project completion reports (PCRs) within three months of a project's end. Projects rarely submit them and usually one does not get adequate information about a project's implementation issues.
The implementation of ADP projects is not only about quantity. Quality should also be considered and it cannot be ensured through hasty fourth quarter expenditures and implementation. Along with this, implementation timeframes should be strict for both foreign aid and government projects – for the smooth and timely implementation of the ADP projects. Rather than embarking on hundreds of new projects, attention should be paid to finishing pending projects by providing them with adequate allocations.
Mostafa Amir Sabbih is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).