With a one-year extension, construction of the 150MW dual-fuel power station in Chattogram's Mirsharai upazila was supposed to be completed in June 2020. Since the work failed to end within the deadline, it was shifted to the next Annual Development Programme (ADP) for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
But that did not work either. The project had to be dragged on for another year as it has been included in the new development spending programme for the upcoming 2021-22 FY.
Like the power plant, as many as 15 projects with completion deadlines in the 2019-20 FY will be added into the annual development spending for the next fiscal year. Of the incomplete programmes, the health directorate tops with four projects.
They are constructions of Shaheed Monsur Ali Medical College and Hospital, Sheikh Sayera Khatun Medical College and Hospital, Universal Nursing Institute and another Safe Motherhood Promotion Operations Research project.
Public officials concerned said the development programmes were scheduled to conclude last year. If the projects had been completed in time, it would have expanded the overall health service deliveries and lessened the pandemic-led sufferings.
On the list of such projects, there are two each of the Bangladesh Rural Development Board (BRDB), Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the Bangladesh Betar; one each of B-R Powergen Ltd, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), Bangladesh Coast Guard, Department of Women Affairs and Department of Labour.
The Planning Commission says projects are taken under ADP with limited financing. The costs hike manyfold if the work fails to end within the deadlines. Besides, delayed implementation reduces the project's benefits.
Contrarily, if the development programmes conclude in time, the pressure on ADP spending eases, other works get sufficient allocations and scopes for taking up new projects emerge, said the commission.
During the revised ADP, the government marks the nearing-end projects to be completed in the respective fiscal year.
Planning Commission officials said 57 of the total 441 projects of the current fiscal year have been included in the next ADP. But the number of incomplete works is feared to increase at the end of the fiscal year.
Not only leading project completion failure even after two years, the health directorate also separately tops the list of such projects for the 2019-20 FY. The directorate's total six projects — two in 2020-21 FY plus four in previous years — have been added to the next ADP.
In the 2019-20 FY completion failure list, there are three projects each of BRDB, religious affairs ministry, University Grants Commission and Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment, two each of Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Bangladesh Betar, labour department, civil aviation authority, Gazipur City Corporation and BIWTA. Some other implementing agencies have one project each in the list.
Number of incomplete projects increasing
Government officials concerned said the tendency of not completing projects in time is "increasing gradually".
According to the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED), 32 of total 252 projects were incomplete in the 2014-15 FY, and turned up for allocations in the next ADP. The number of unfinished works rose to 78 in the next year.
The number of unfinished projects that joined the next year's ADP were 72, 104, 101 and 164 in 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 FY respectively. The figures support the "growing tendency to let projects drag on" remark.
Moreover, the IMED said 141 projects were announced completed in 2019-20 FY without finishing all the mentioned project components.
In the ADP for the 2021-22 FY, 356 development works have been marked to be completed. But project officials themselves speculate over the target as Covid-19 induced situation keeps delaying the development schemes.
In many cases, the pandemic is deterring the completion of a smaller component of a project. On the other hand, a number of project directors are exploiting the pandemic situation instead of looking for alternative ways.
AKM Rashedul Haque Chowdhury, the project director of Mirsharai 150MW power plant, said they had completed 97% of the work long ago.
"Only the trial of the plant is yet to be carried out. The project is still incomplete as the Chinese experts cannot arrive in Dhaka due to the pandemic," he added.
But referring to ongoing other mega-projects such as Padma Bridge, metrorail and Padma rail link project, Planning Commission officials said it is unacceptable that a 150MW power plant cannot go into production even in two years owing to expert arrival at the project site.
The officials said most of the Chinese engineers returned to project sites as they got stuck in that country due to the virus outbreak in 2020.
Lack of implementing capacity to blame
Mohammad Jainul Bari, secretary of the Planning Division, said the projects get sufficient ADP allocation to conclude promptly as per the demand.
"Incapacity of the implementing agencies is often the major drawback," he noted, adding, the government has already issued several instructions to complete the projects fast. But many implementing agencies have been dragging on for years, and the number of projects failed to materialise within the deadlines is on the rise.
The Planning Division secretary said the government is getting tough in this regard. It has already been instructed that neither the cost nor the deadline of the projects marked to complete soon will be increased.
IMED officials said the projects have various perks including extra salaries, allowances and vehicles. Project officials do not want to complete the works fast so that they can enjoy the benefits for long.
They also said as there are no rewards or punitive actions for finishing work in time or for project delay, project directors are le4ss willing to speed up. In many cases, contractors exert pressure to extend the time, resulting in delays at the end.
IMED Secretary Pradeep Ranjan Chakraborty said if the implementing agencies have contingency plans, there is no reason to get delayed – at least due to the causes they usually mention.
Dr Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute (PRI), said if a project can be completed in time, the cost does not escalate. Besides, it can benefit the people with the outputs exactly when those are required.
He advocated for introducing punishment and reward. "At the same time, it will encourage and compel the project directors to finish up promptly," he added.