At a time when the euphoria over the opening of the Padma Bridge to traffic is yet to ebb, a dialogue titled, "Implementation of Public Infrastructure Projects in Bangladesh: Ensuring Good Value for Money" organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) has come as a stark reminder of the need for getting the basics right in terms of project implementation. Cost escalation has become endemic not only for mega projects but also for almost all development works. What is particularly galling is that even the feasibility study is done perfunctorily and the fault lines appear all through the execution period often extended several times. Over the past few years or perhaps decades, only one major project was reportedly completed before time and the cost was less than the estimated amount. The remainder of the unused fund -- as a shining example of honesty, efficiency and integrity -- was returned to the exchequer. Then the Rooppur nuclear power plant and MRT line-6 are also reportedly on track to be completed on schedule.
All other projects including the eight of the 10 mega projects, not excluding the Padma Bridge, have been revised. So lawmakers, economists and development experts have been critical of this lethargic trend of project execution at the dialogue arranged by the CPD. Even Planning Minister MA Mannan cited some endemic weaknesses of which the absence of project directors at the site is one, which, according to him, is a serious impediment to implementation of programmes on time. But where it hurts most is the faulty feasibility study leading to redesigning infrastructure or making readjustment to the original plan. It happened in case of the Maghbazar flyover where the design was originally planned for left-hand driving; it has happened in case of the Padma Bridge rail link when it was discovered that the approach of the rail track had lower overhead height. But the greatest challenge not taken into reckoning originally was the shifting soil of the riverbed of Padma and overcoming it to erect a couple of pillars midstream.
Well, a few of these oversights can be excused in case of a mega project like the Padma Bridge but when there are reports galore that bridges have been constructed with no trace of roads on either side or the connecting approach roads have been left incomplete rendering the bridges useless, one smells rat in the entire exercise. Then there are frequent reports on bridges or culverts collapsing immediately after their construction or carpeting coming off soon after its completion, the ulterior motive behind the project undertaking by concerned engineers and contractors gets exposed. There are even reports that contractors receive their bills without starting their scheduled works.
It is exactly at this point comes the issue of accountability following the execution of projects. If there were regular monitoring and post-implementation accountability, irregularities and haphazard or perfunctory development works could not become an order of the day. The chairman and members on parliamentary standing committee on estimates have admitted that misappropriation takes place and there is a tendency to purchase pricey jeeps as soon as projects get go-ahead for the purpose of monitoring but actually it is used as an excuse. The bottom line is to get results worth the invested money and this can only be ensured by close monitoring of works in progress by an expert body formed for the purpose.