Feb 22
Planning Ministry Cares For Ruling Party Not For People PDF Print E-mail

By Apu Ahmed

Development schemes approved by the executive committee of the national economic council headed by the country’s prime minister evoke questions about the scrutiny process of the planning ministry in checking projects which are often politically motivated and overpriced. There are many instances that the   ECNEC approved many projects in the last several years which should not be forwarded by the planning commission to the county’s highest economic body. Even a layman could realize that the planning commission is neglecting its main responsibility of scrutinizing project approval process. That’s why presence of politically motivated and cost over-run projects is growing in the annual development programme. The trend because of errors in the planning ministry might help the ruling party to show advancement of the country’s development in paper but not in reality.

 

Flyover or Cash Cow

 

On January 9, the ECNEC approved a Dhaka North City Corporation proposal to widen the Mirpur-ECB Chattar road and to construct a flyover over the thoroughfare at a cost of Tk 612.69 crore. The expansion work of the 4.5 kilomtere road and construction of the 844 metre flyover at Kalshi would complete in 2019. It has been assessed that the development cost of per kilometer road of the Mirpur-ECB Chattar expansion project would be Tk 136 crore within four years after the same road with a flyover over the Dhaka cantonment area was opened for vehicular movement in 2013. Under the new scheme, 11.16 acres of land will be acquired, 3,88,244 cubic metres of soil will be cut and filled and 3,700-metre foundation and pavement will be built. Also, 609 square metres PC girder bridges will be expanded alongside constructing 500 metre retaining wall, 7,400 metres footpath and 3,700 metre median. The Bangladesh Army led Special Works Organization-West has been awarded the deal.

 

Motivated Projects

 

On December 26, the government approved three projects worth Tk. 81,4882 crore aiming at improving rural infrastructure ahead of the next general election. The projects are: Mymensingh region rural infrastructure development project (Tk 3183.56 crore), Rangpur region rural infrastructure development project (Tk 2884.86 crore), and Rajshahi region rural infrastructure development project (Tk 2080.40 crore). The LGED will implement these projects as per directives from the local members of parliament. Local government expert Tofail Ahmed said the projects were likely to be indirectly aimed at motivating voters before the next election. The quality of these projects is important. For this, the funds have to be utilised properly, he added. Tofail Ahmed said an accurate technical plan is required to implement the rural infrastructure improvement projects. Otherwise, the project funds will be plundered, he warned. Earlier on September 12 similar projects were approved by the ECNEC which aimed at developing mosques, temples, pagodas, graveyards, cremation grounds and playgrounds which would be selected by local MPs.

 

Infrastructures Project Cost Highest

 

Beside the politically motivated and unnecessary projects, the planning commission also cleared many projects, costs of which are surprised all and sundry. A comparative picture on the basis of a World Bank report already showed that the cost of construction of highway and flyovers in Bangladesh exceeded the costs in leading European and Asian countries. The per km cost for the construction of proposed four-lane 53-km Dhaka-Mawa Highway has been set at Tk 117.96 crore. The per km construction cost of the proposed 190.40-km Elanga-Rangpur Highway has been set at Tk 62.40 crore while the per km construction cost of the proposed 226-km Dhaka-Sylhet Highway has been set at Tk 56 crore. The highways provide the picture of cost escalation compared to the almost completed four-lane192-km Dhaka-Chittagong Highway and the nearly completed four-lane 87.18-km Joydebpur-Mymensingh Highway as well as the under construction four-lane70-km Joydevpur-Elengana Highway. The per km construction cost of Dhaka-Chittagong Highway was Tk 19.88 crore and that of Joydevpur-Mymensingh Highway was ( Tk 20.82 crore while for the Joydevpur-Elenga Highway it was Tk43.8 crore). Europe spent $3,50,000 equivalent to Tk 28 crore, on construction of one km four-lane new highway, according to a 2014 report of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

 

Cost Escalation

 

Experts said there was no valid ground for such sharp highway cost escalation considering that there had been no comparable rises in labour costs or the prices of construction materials in Bangladesh. Former caretaker government adviser Mirza Azizul Islam said the authorities could provide no convincing reason for such big cost escalation. The inflated cost estimates were approved mostly in the recent years, he said. He mentioned that it raised doubts whether these projects’ cost effectiveness was at all examined by the planning commission or the road transport ministry. Former caretaker government adviser Jamilur Reza Chowdhury said that the high costing of flyovers and the highways was set by the authorities by skirting bidding and scrutiny. He also blamed the cost escalations to implementation delays. Officials said delay in constructing the four-lane 11-km Mayor Hanif Flyover in the capital had skyrocketed its cost to Tk 2,053 crore in 2013 from the cost of Tk 670 crore projected eight years back in 2005. In other words Tk 186 crore was the per km construction cost of the Mayor Hanif Flyover. In India it costs less than Tk 100 crore to build one km of Flyover while Pakistan spends around Tk 70 crore for it, said officials. Malaysia and China also spend less than Tk 100 crore on construction of each km of four-lane flyover.

 

Statements

 

In 2015, planning minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said the government decided to take some steps to overcome delay in projects approval and their implementation.  He said the government is mulling of structural reform of planning process aiming at bringing dynamism into public machinery, which will contribute to timely implementation of projects. However, the plans as described by the planning minister remained stuck in the table. Another statement by the planning minister on the same year to scrap slow paced 140 projects was lauded by many for the decision would stop wastes of time as well as public money. According to Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division which oversees project implementations identified a primary list of those projects, running for years and given frequent revisions. The process drained public money and hamper the real objective of public investments.  The IMED identified one out of three projects approved by ECNEC in 2013-14 fiscal, was revised projects, which shot up project cost by more than 50 per cent and project durations by 3 years on average to 6.5 years. The same practice of project revisions hiked project cost of 60 revised projects by 48.32 per cent over their original costs and their implementation timeframe by two years and 10 months over their original timeframe.

 

Political rhetoric

 

However, the decision of scrapping slow paced projects was not implemented in the past two years demonstrating that the statement by the planning minister was not translated into reality, or the government would not agree with the statement by Mustafa. Thing can also be described by the way that the planning minister was forced to make the statement since the IMED identified those projects as part of its responsibility. Indecision to scrap those projects may lead many to understand that the statement by the minister is political rhetoric and is main driving force of the planning ministry.