The government spends a large amount of money on hundreds of development projects every year. Its Annual Development Programme contains new as well as the ongoing projects.
The rate of project implementation until the third quarter of every financial year is an old story. Project execution, however, gains an unusual pace during the final quarter. This has been happening for decades with none trying to reverse the trend.
The weaknesses of the development administration in the country are more or less known to all. But measures to rectify those have not been forthcoming.
Planning minister Mr M.A. Mannan is a down-to-earth person with no pretensions. He does know the factors impeding the development project implementation process. But he is, in a way, helpless. Unless and until the executing ministries/divisions initiate the necessary move, there will be no improvement in the situation on the ground. These agencies are gripped by deep-rooted inertia and they are resistant to any improvement.
One of the weaknesses of the development administration is the absence of genuine feasibility studies in the case of many development projects. Such studies are carried out on large and mega projects, of course. However, a few studies are often done half-heartedly. This particular factor along with some others, on most occasions, leads to cost and time overrun of many large projects.
The importance of having proper feasibility studies is also being felt in the corridors of power these days. The existing development project proposal (DPP) document does contain a section on the feasibility study. None other than the planning minister while speaking at a workshop on finalising the draft feasibility study format in Dhaka admitted that the content of the feasibility study reports submitted with the DPPs is insufficient and weak. The truth is, in many cases, it becomes difficult for the Planning Commission to understand the suitability of projects.
There is another part of the story. On many occasions, coming under political pressure various ministries/divisions have to prepare projects and send the same to the Planning Commission for vetting without carrying out the necessary feasibility studies.
The government reportedly is thinking about skipping feasibility studies in the case of development studies costing below Tk 500 million. That should not be the right thing to do, it seems. Tk 500 million is a sizeable amount. There should be a brief feasibility study even in the case of small projects. When it comes to medium and large projects, the feasibility study needs to be extensive and those should cover all aspects, including physical, financial and environmental issues.
Yet submission of feasibility studies would not mean anything unless those are scrutinised and evaluated with due seriousness by the committees manned by competent persons. Pushing the feasibility study and expert committee reports under the carpet, as happens in many instances in this country, would result in no change in the current state of development project execution.
It will be, however, important to allocate enough resources to relevant ministries and divisions to carry out feasibility studies on development projects they undertake from time to time. The Planning Commission should also send a clear guideline to the ministries/divisions explaining the ways to conduct feasibility studies.