Published in The Financial Express on Monday, 8 February 2016
Land first, project thereafter
Govt policy change aims to expedite dev work
FHM Humayan Kabir
Under a new public-works policy attuned to the problem of land scarcity, the government agencies from now on would have to acquire land before taking up the related project to expedite their execution.
Officials said Monday the government also could make it mandatory for the agencies to appoint consultant for conducting feasibility study and detailed design of projects before approval by proper government authority.
As per the initiative, they said, the government would allocate adequate funds for land acquisition and appointing consultant from its revenue budget or internal resources before approval for the main project.
Development experts, however, appeared strongly critical of the government move. They presume this government initiative will encourage misuse of the public funds “in the name of land acquisition”.
The government formed Monday a five-member subcommittee, headed by the Principal Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, for submitting a concrete proposal on the proposed changes in the project-implementation process.
With Finance Minister AMA Muhith in the chair, the panel was formed at a meeting at the Planning Commission. As per recommendation of the sub-committee, the government will finalise the changes to the project-implementation process, the officials said.
“Since the land-acquisition process is very complex and time-consuming, the government has made the move to make the project-implementing agencies do land acquisition before approval of the project,” state minister for finance and planning MA Mannan told the FE.
He said funds for land acquisition will be provided from government’s revenue fund which will be reimbursed from the project aid, after confirmation of the external funds for the main project.
Besides, the government has taken some more moves to bring changes in project-implementation process aiming to accelerate the execution process.
The Economic Relations Division (ERD) has already made some proposals on the changes to be made to the process of project preparation to the same end.
According to the proposals, the practices of availing approval from the legislative division, the National Board of Revenue (NBR), ministry or division on commercial contract for purchasing products and services have also been recommended to be scrapped, if it is not repugnant to the existing act, regulation, order and directive.
Time-bound project-readiness checklist has also been suggested for ensuring execution of all preparatory activities of the government-funded and foreign-aided projects, many of which often miss timeline.
The proposals also include preparing a handbook, including general information on projects and implementation.
The proposal says approval will have to be taken from the minister concerned for reduction of 10 per cent allocation in the RADP (Revised Annual Development Programme) from the original ADP.
Development expert Dr Mirza Azizul Islam opposes the land acquisition before approval for the project, saying this would encourage misuse of government funds.
“If the government allocates money from its own fund for acquiring land before the project preparation, and if the project is ultimately seen as non-viable one, then what will happen?”
Besides, some vested groups could misuse the government-proposed system for making money to aggrandize their own interest, Dr Islam told the FE.
He suggested enhancing capacity of the project-implementing agencies and giving reward or punishment for the related project officials.
Centre for Policy Dialogue Executive Director Professor Mustafizur Rahman said the government should be cautious and should have strict monitoring on fund allocation for such advance land acquisition.
“I see the government’s move positive. But the land acquisition should be only after the feasibility study for the proposed project,” he told the FE.
The government has undertaken a Tk 970 billion annual development programme (ADP) in the current FY2015-16, for executing more than 1,155 development projects.
The agencies concerned have spent only 24 per cent of the ADP outlay during July-December period-in what turns out to be worst performance in development-budget utilisation in the first half of any fiscal in last seven years.