The Asian Development Bank's (ADB) independent evaluation said investment to Bangladesh's railway sector had not delivered results as quickly as anticipated, because the sectoral reforms took longer time.
"The ADB's investment in railways was much higher than initially planned, but (it) did not represent a significant contribution to the economy, although it was a high priority for the government," said a report, released by the ADB's Independent Evaluation Department (IED), from Manila on Monday.
The ADB's strategy and programme to improve connectivity through better railway and highway connections did not produce results at the intended pace.
The ADB did not take a proactive, holistic or multi-sector approach to helping the country tackle climate change, the report added.
The IED also said Bangladesh's health sector suffered decades of underinvestment.
"While the ADB has supported access to primary healthcare for the urban poor, it has not engaged directly with the Ministry of Health or considered becoming involved more formally in health and social protection."
The ADB could build on its success in improving healthcare services for the urban poor in Dhaka and other cities by providing broader support for national health and social protection systems in Bangladesh, it opined.
The ADB's independent department evaluated the lender's investment and its outcome in Bangladesh over the last 10 years from 2011 to 2020.
The evaluation was guided by an overarching question - to what extent did the ADB contribute to inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional cooperation and integration over 2011-2020.
The IED evaluation report further said results were slow to materialise (investment) in public sector management, transport, and private sector development.
IED Director Joanne Asquith said: "Reforms in public sector management (PSM) require long-term engagement. The ADB's support for PSM and good governance needs to have a stronger analytical base, engage more deeply with civil society, and increase collaboration with the wider development partner community."
Meanwhile, the IED report said the ADB's support for energy and transport infrastructure over the past decade made a significant contribution to Bangladesh's economic growth.
The ADB's programme in Bangladesh amounted to nearly US$18 billion over the evaluation period, 2011-2020, with two-thirds invested in energy, transport, and water infrastructure.
"Impressive results were achieved in the energy sector, where the ADB has provided nearly 50 years of consistent support. While access to energy has skyrocketed, more attention must now be paid to the sector's decarbonisation," the report added.
"Investment over the short- to medium-term will need to pay attention to recovery from the pandemic, and aim to strengthen national healthcare services and social protection systems to build Bangladesh's resilience to shocks," IED Director General Marvin Taylor-Dormond said.
The evaluation found evidence that where the ADB worked differently, and where the government initiative and leadership was supported, impressive results were possible.
The ADB's support for inclusion, education and skills development, and greater gender equity achieved good results, the report said.
In education, for example, the ADB worked with other development partners to support a sector-wide education programme that over time has seen education offered to almost all children of primary school age.
A larger proportion of the students completed schooling, with near gender parity, and narrowed socio-economic differences on key education indicators, although there is still a need to improve education quality, it noted.
Other recommendations aim targeting policy-based lending at the most critical and relevant policy issues, where the government reform commitment is strong, and where governance can be strengthened, and increasing support for Bangladesh's national health and social protection systems to mitigate exposure of the population to systemic shocks, including those related to natural hazards, climate change, and disease outbreaks such as Covid-19.