Published in The Daily Star on Monday, 29 February 2016
Quick implementation for quick results
WITH the fiscal year crossing its halfway mark, discussions on the implementation status of annual development programmes (ADP) come into the limelight. Recent figures of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) of the Ministry of Planning reveal the slow pace of ADP implementation during the first seven months of FY2015-16. The current fiscal year’s implementation rate of 28 percent utilisation of the allocated resources from July-January is the lowest in the last eight years. Of the total allocation of Tk. 100,997 crores for the current fiscal year, ministries and departments could spend TK 28,750 crores till January. Just the year before, the implementation rate during the same period was 32 percent of total allocation.
The cycle is of course the same every year. ADP implementation is slow during the first seven or eight months, the size is then readjusted downward and finally, the implementation process gets expedited towards the end of the fiscal year to fulfil the target. This year, as IMED shows, ten ministries and divisions are implementing some mega projects, namely the Padma Bridge, metro rail and nuclear power plant. But these ministries could spend only about 30 percent on average of their allocations. These are the ministries and divisions which have received 73 percent of the total ADP allocations in the current fiscal year. Obviously, when large projects in the large ministries are slow, the overall performance gets affected. But there are weaker performers too. Seventeen ministries and divisions spent less than 20 percent of their allocations.
Slow implementation is not a unique problem to only Bangladesh. This is the case with developing economies around the world. Lack of institutional capacity and other complexities, including the bureaucratic issues, make the full and timely implementation of development programmes difficult. Neighbouring India, with a larger size of the economy and a faster rate of growth, faces a similar problem. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi is unhappy with the lethargic bureaucracy and the speed of implementation of development programmes. In March 2015, he launched a multi-purpose and multi-modal platform called Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation or PRAGATI. He interacts with the high officials through IT-based PRAGATI, which aims to address grievances of common people, and monitor and review important programmes and projects of both central and state governments. Mr. Modi directly communicates through video-conferencing with officials, and also reviews the progress of important infrastructural projects under important sectors such as road, railway, coal, power and energy, in an effort for quick delivery of government programmes. Success of this initiative is yet to be observed, but it would surely help improve accountability and track the progress of the work.
In Bangladesh, attempts have been taken to improve our ADP performance through initiatives such as regular meetings with the project directors and mid-term review of implementation status. The concerned ministry is aware of challenges of ADP implementation, and has the willingness to remove associated bottlenecks. The Minister of Planning informed last year that project directors would be appointed through interviews, and they would be provided proper training so that they can deliver their tasks. He declared that projects which got extended once would not be extended for the second time, and a project director cannot be the project director of more than one project. The minister also directed to set implementation targets for every three months. These initiatives have not yet seen any results. For monitoring the implementation of priority projects, the Parliamentary Standing Committees and Public Accounts Committee could also take an active role.
But the success of any initiative towards improving ADP performance will require addressing the inherent problems of structural issues and implementation of reform measures. Time and again, the issue of improving institutional capacity of the line ministries to implement ADP, and of the IMED to effectively monitor and evaluate has been brought up. Implementation of projects is inextricably linked to the initiation of projects. The timeline of project implementation is affected by its delayed take-off. At the very early stage, problems related to completion of project proposal, setting expenditure targets and preparing a good feasibility study, take away a lot of time before the projects are approved. Tendering, appointment of project staff, land acquisition and procurement have always been concerns that impediment timely launching of projects. Because of this delay, the absorption capacity of projects reduces significantly. As there is an urge to fulfil the quantitative targets in a short time, the qualitative aspects of ADP get less attention, resulting in poor project outcome. Delay escalates the cost of projects. So the cost of services incurred by the people goes up, and the intended benefits are minimised. Public expenditures on development programmes also create avenues for private investment which is essential for job creation. If ADP is not fully implemented and their quality is not ensured, private investment will suffer.
After all, when implementation of the bulk of the development programmes are to be completed during the last few months of the fiscal year within the same administrative structure and with the same level of capacity, one cannot guarantee the quality. Development projects, particularly the mega ones, involve huge investments. Efficient utilisation of such a large amount of money in a poor country such as Bangladesh is critical. But it is not only about spending the money and making structures. Implementation of development projects is also about achieving sustainable development objectives. The immediate objective of infrastructure building may be achieving higher growth, but the ultimate objective is to fulfil the need of every citizen of the country. This underscores the importance of an effective delivery mechanism of ADP.