The government has included a number of priority development projects – aimed at accelerating the country's economic growth – in the list of fast-track ones for the convenience of supervision to make sure they are implemented on time. However, these projects have been maintaining a trend of slow implementation since their inception at different times.
In spite of various measures, including direct supervision by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), strengthened monitoring, and regular review of the progress of work, the authorities have been failing to spend the full allocations on these projects year after year, thus prolonging the nation's period of waiting in expectation of reaping their anticipated benefits.
Because of the delay in implementation, some of the projects have already experienced cost escalations and gone through deadline extensions.
Official data show some Tk38,527 crore has been allocated for eight fast-track projects, excluding Rampal Power Plant or Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant, for the current 2021-22 financial year, of which 31.62% or Tk12,180 crore was spent in the first six months of the year.
According to the updated report of the Economic Relations Division (ERD), the river training work for the Padma Bridge project, construction work on the infrastructure of Rooppur nuclear power project, construction of Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway line, and construction work on the Metro Rail project in Dhaka did not go as expected during the first half of the current fiscal year.
The Padma Rail Link project, though, has been an exception as the progress of its construction work was a bit more than the target set for the July-December period of this fiscal.
The ERD report says that the Covid-19 pandemic following its outbreak in early 2020 slowed down the pace of the fast-track projects and its effects are still there.
The Covid situation has caused problems for foreign consultants and experts regarding their coming to the project sites. For the same reason, import of project materials from abroad has been delayed.
Meanwhile, the fast spreading Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has emerged as a new threat to the timely implementation of the fast-track projects, the report adds.
ERD officials have identified several more reasons behind the slow progress of the fast-track projects. According to them, a failure to hire consultants and contractors on time, delay in land acquisition, inadequate feasibility studies, errors in designs and a lack of implementation capacity make it impossible to achieve the targeted progress on these projects.
Nonetheless, the government has announced that the Padma Bridge will be opened for traffic this June. It has also announced that trains will begin carrying passengers on the Uttara-Agargaon route (MRT-6) of the Metro Rail project from December this year.
But considering that the money cannot be spent, the implementing agencies have proposed reducing the allocations for these two projects in the revised Annual Development Programme (RADP) for the current financial year.
On the other hand, an additional allocation has been sought for the project related to a laying of railway tracks from Dohazari to Cox's Bazar via Ghundum, despite the fact that the authorities have thus far failed to spend the allocation as per target set for the current financial year.
The Bangladesh Railway has also sought an additional allocation in the revised ADP for the Padma Rail Link project as the implementation work has gained pace.
Shamsul Alam, State Minister for Planning, told The Business Standard that the government's priority fast-track projects are being monitored by all quarters of the government, but these projects are failing to make progress as specified in the work plan owing mainly to the Covid situation.
In his reaction to such issues, Shamsul Haque, a communications expert and professor at Buet, however, said, "People associated with projects in our country seriously lack skills. As a result, when a contractor sees that the project director or other people involved in the project are not so experienced, they try to prolong the construction work in many ways."
He mentioned that Pakistan and Indonesia had already completed the infrastructure for bus rapid transit (BRT) and metro rail even though they started the projects after Bangladesh.
Covid has made inroads all over the world, he said, adding, "As a result, Covid cannot be an excuse for slow implementation of development projects."
The noted communication expert went on to say that designs for development projects in Bangladesh are made informally. "When the work starts at the field level, a lot of changes have to be made in the designs. As a result, construction work cannot be done as per the work plan."
Fast-track projects also suffer from this problem, he concluded.