Execution of foreign-funded projects being hampered

FHM HUMAYAN KABIR | Saturday, 31 July 2021

The execution of development projects, especially those funded by donors and mega ones, is hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The disruption caused to the supply of essential materials and technical manpower from abroad has been a key factor in this regard, officials concerned have said.

The supply of necessary materials and machinery from various countries were put on hold, and foreign consultants and other workforces could not arrive here due to the pandemic-induced travel ban imposed from time to time, they added.

The FE correspondent talked with some project directors and officials concerned of the line ministries, the Finance Division, the Planning Commission (PC), the Economic Relations Division (ERD), and the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) over the last few days.

Most of them admitted that execution of development projects, especially the foreign-funded ones, had been affected due to the Covid pandemic.

The country is implementing some 1,426 development projects under the Tk 2.25-trillion Annual Development Programme (ADP) in the current fiscal year (FY), 2021-22.

Of the outlay, the government allocated Tk 1.37 trillion funds from its internal resources, and the remaining Tk 880.25 billion would come from external sources as project aid (foreign aid).

In the just concluded FY 2021, the government agencies were implementing 1,842 projects under the Tk 2.09-trillion revised ADP.

Of the funds, the government provided Tk 1.34 trillion from its internal resources, while Tk 630 billion came from external sources as the project aid.

The virus that is responsible for Covid-19 was first detected in Bangladesh in March of FY 2020.

The pandemic impact on project execution not only affected the physical works of projects but also their financial inflow.

The Finance Division imposed a bar on spending last 15 per cent of the total allocated development funds against projects in the Tk 2.09-trillion ADP last year.

Mofizur Rahman, Project Director of the Dohazari-Ramu-Cox's Bazar and Ramu-Gundum railway track project, told the FE that the project had been severely affected due to the coronavirus outbreak over the last 16 months.

Supply of different materials, like rail-track, stone and geo-textile etc, from abroad had been significantly hampered.

Besides, bar on movement of foreign consultants and engineers had created another hurdle for implementation of the project, said Mr Rahman, also a General Manager of the Bangladesh Railway.

"Until June, some 60 per cent of the project has been implemented. Some 70-75 per cent of the project work could have been completed had there been no Covid," he added.

Kazi Monirul Islam, Additional Secretary at the Ministry of Education, told the FE that some of their projects, especially the foreign-funded and large ones, were affected due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

"But small ones are not affected, because those involve construction of buildings in the educational institutions. Their manpower and materials are available in the country. We need not hire foreign consultants and collect materials for the small schemes."

"Amid the lingering Covid pandemic, we have taken a new approach of holding consultations and meetings with foreign and local consultants and officials virtually for expediting the project work. This plan is working well for overcoming hurdles," Mr Islam added.

Syed Ashrafuzzaman, a Deputy Secretary at the ERD, told the FE that the foreign-aided projects were affected due to the Covid pandemic, as the country's foreign aid inflow fell short of target last fiscal.

The development partners disbursed US$7.11 billion worth of loans and grants in FY 2021. The government had a target to receive $8.32 billion worth of foreign aid in the outgoing fiscal, he noted.

Nazmul Islam, a Deputy Secretary at the PC, told the FE that they suggested the implementing agencies to overcome the hurdles in a bid to continue the project works through engaging more manpower on project sites and consulting virtually with foreign experts.

"The Covid outbreak has failed to obstruct our project approval process, as the government is endorsing scores of projects every month - even during the lockdown period. The government policy is expediting development works," he added.

When asked, IMED Secretary Pradip Ranjan Chakraborty told the FE that there was no special measure

for overcoming the hurdles, as the government helped the authorities concerned in different ways for continuing their development works.

"For example, the government allowed the project authorities to mobilise and transfer workers, construction materials and skilled manpower from one place to another for project execution during the lockdown period."

Besides, the Prime Minister, in every ECNEC meeting, instructed the authorities and their line ministries for expediting project implementation.

As per the ECNEC decision, they were also guiding the line ministries and project implementers to complete their works in time overcoming the Covid-related hurdles, he added.

The IMED secretary was hopeful of achieving good result in terms of project execution in the future days, as he hinted that the agencies performed better in FY 2021 compared to FY 2020.

He was confident enough to expedite project execution in FY 2022, as all the agencies already adapted themselves to the changed situation.

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