All efforts by the government have apparently failed to speed up development spending in the first half of the current fiscal year.
The implementation of the Annual Development Programme (ADP) in the first six months of the current fiscal year remains stuck, just as it was in the previous year. This has developed almost as a pattern in ADP implementation.
The Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) report reveals that ministries and divisions spent Tk56,712.57 crore on ADP projects till December last — only 26.36 percent of the total ADP allocation.
The year-on-year rate was 27.45 percent, or Tk49,644.80 crore.
"Though implementation dropped slightly, a total of Tk7,067.77 crore more has been spent this year, compared to that in the previous fiscal year. It is a remarkable achievement," Planning Minister MA Mannan told the press on Tuesday.
The size of the ADP budget for the current fiscal year is Tk215,113.73 crore. It was Tk180,869 crore in the previous fiscal year.
The prime minister directed officials to speed up ADP implementation while approving the development spending for the current fiscal year. She also instructed officials to look into projects that have been running for a long time.
Sheikh Hasina also put emphasis on boosting the monitoring of implementation. She has also made it mandatory for project directors to stay at project sites.
The planning minister has also met with project implementing officials several times. He has gone to divisional headquarters to identify the field level issues that project directors usually face.
The minister's visits found numerous reasons for implementation delay.
In many cases, it was found that project directors were not staying at project sites. Many were found to be overseeing more than one project at a time.
Officials at the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division, preferring anonymity, said, lack of professionalism and poor purchase planning by project directors often delays implementation.
They also said that lack of knowledge about the terms given by development partners sometimes delays the beginning of a project.
The Planning Commission is now mulling the formation of a pool of skilled project directors.
Officials at the Planning Commission said that, from the last fiscal year, the total funds for a project are being released at one go so that fund shortage does not hinder implementation.
Previously, project funds were released in two installments initially. Next two installments were given after application of the ministries.
Officials have been instructed through a circular to get feasibility study done before submitting project proposals. However, projects are often approved without feasibility study because of political pressure.
Planning Commission officials claim that these projects often need revision half way through implementation because they bypassed assessment. This malpractice escalates both project duration and cost.
Implementing agencies are still ignorant about completing land acquisition prior to taking up a project, though the Commission recommended it.
Planning Commission officials said insufficient allocation in development spending sometimes delays implementation. Ministries and divisions are not following the Medium-Term Budget Framework (MTBF), which hampers fair funding.
Apart from this, many projects crawl along because development partners delay in disbursing funds. The partners require approval from their superiors on tender floating and appointing contractors and consultants, which sometimes takes one to one and a half years.
ADP implementation over several years shows that the size of the ADP is growing gradually. However, development spending is sluggish in the first half, while ministries and divisions double it in the last three months of the fiscal year. The rush compromises the quality of the work.
Arastoo Khan, a former member of the Planning Commission, told The Business Standard that spending in the first six months has been fluctuating between 24 to 27 percent for many years. It develops into a cycle which is difficult to break.
"However, strong monitoring can change the scenario," he added.
Planning Secretary Md Nurul Amin said that the start of anti-corruption drives forced many contractors to stop their work.
"Moreover, some foreign funded projects faced complications over approval. These two reasons have resulted in low spending despite numerous measures by the government," he commented, claiming that ADP implementation could reach 35 percent if the two reasons did not surface.
A former advisor of a caretaker government, Mirza Azizul Islam, said money is never an issue for ADP implementation. The main issue is lack of accountability.
He said, "ADP implementation will speed up if the government rewards successful project directors and punishes defaulters."
IMED officials say that on January 13, they would hold a meeting with the ministries and divisions that have spent less than ten percent of the total allocation.
The defaulters include the Internal Resources Division (1.29 percent), Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism (4 percent), Ministry of Industries (5.27 percent), Security Services Division (9.42 percent), Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Division (8.31 percent), Anti-Corruption Commission (8.73 percent), Bangladesh Public Service Commission (7.48 percent), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (8.22 percent), Planning Division (6.49 percent), Financial Institutions Division (10.85 percent) and Ministry of Public Administration (6.98 percent).