In 1995, the Purbachal New Town Project – the biggest planned town in the country – was taken to reduce the population pressure on Dhaka city.
After 25 years, only 70 percent of the project has been completed, and planning officials blame frequent change of project directors for the delay as it hampers the land acquisition process and the construction.
During this time, 10 project directors – all officials of the Public Works Department or Rajdhani Unnayan Katripakkha (Rajuk), the implementing agency of the township – were appointed for the project. Meantime, its total cost escalated by 135 percent.
This is just one picture of how frequent change in project heads hampers the entire schemes, leading to runaway cost escalation at the cost of the taxpayers.
The Business Standard has learnt about many such projects that faced similar fates.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had directed, repeatedly, that only one, full-time, project director be appointed for important and mega projects. The Planning Commission has also made it mandatory that one single director be appointed for a project worth Tk50 crore or higher.
The commission has been even directed not to assign anyone who will retire before the project is completed as a project director because it needs one at least six months to understand the details of a project.
But there are many projects in which several project directors are involved at a time.
The Business Standard has learnt that the projects on Bangladesh Railway Reform, the Jamalpur Economic Zone, water supply and sanitation, and the Matarbari 1,200MW Coal Power Plant are only a few of such major cases.
The railways ministry had appointed 18 project directors for the Bangladesh Railway Reform Project. Despite setting out with a duration of three years, the project was finished in June last year, 13 years after it had begun. The project directors served an average of eight months on the project.
The construction of the Jamalpur Economic Zone, which was supposed to be completed in 2017, has been progressing slowly. The deadline of the project was extended for a third time – until December 2020.
An IMED report mentions that the project work, like that of other projects, was interrupted due to frequent changes of project director. Six project directors so far have been changed on this project.
The Matarbari 1,200MW Coal Power Plant project has been running for five years near Maheshkhali. However, a full-time project director has yet to be assigned for the project. So far, three project directors have worked on it.
In the absence of proper supervision, the project is moving at a snail's pace with only 18.67 percent work completed so far with a deadline of June 2024.
Some agencies are not efficient enough to implement small projects, let alone large ones.
An example is a Tk24 crore project on water supply and sanitation. It is named as Establishment of National Human Development Centre of DPHE for Water Supply and Sanitation. The Department of Public Health Engineering could not complete the work within the scheduled three years.
A total of 10 project directors worked on the project, which took 10 years to complete due to a lack of quality in management. The project was completed in June 2018.
Despite the prime minister's directive that a project director handle only one project at a time, a Roads and Highways Department official has simultaneously been directing nine projects in Mymensingh.
A planning ministry report found that Md Saiful Alam, an additional chief engineer of the Roads and Highways Department, Mymensingh (zone office), is the director of nine projects in the division. The progress on six of those projects is very slow and one has made no progress at all.
When contacted, Saiful Alam said implementing several projects at the same time is not a problem because there is a superintending engineer and two executive engineers to oversee the work in each of the projects.
He also claimed that only one project was going slowly while the others were progressing well.
But why so many officials want to head projects?
A planning ministry official gave the answer. He said most officials are interested in being project directors of large funded projects because they receive benefits such as a vehicle and some financial facilities.
Former adviser to a caretaker government Mirza Azizul Islam said, "The main issue is the lack of accountability. Project implementation will speed up if the government rewards successful project directors and punishes defaulters."