The government should not go for new projects amid the pandemic and instead focus on accelerating ongoing infrastructure projects in the next budget.
Covid-19 is increasing government spending as incentives have to be given in different sectors; this is unwanted expenditure.
But expenditure for dealing with the novel coronavirus will keep rising in the long run. Besides, the government's revenue income will also decrease. In this situation, transformation projects – those very much related to economic growth – must be given priority. And these projects need to be completed quickly because the impact of Covid-19 on the country's economy will last for several years.
Like the last quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal year, project implementation may slow down due to the pandemic. There will be trouble in restarting the works and the delay in implementation will cause the project costs to rise further.
We have appointed foreign consultants for the implementation of megaprojects as per the condition of development partners, but they are not coming to Bangladesh.
To resume construction, the government should take steps to allay Covid-19 fears. Medical units should be established at every construction site, like the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project. So, the cost of projects will also increase due to coronavirus prevention measures.
The government's job will be to restore confidence of all those involved in construction works. It must ensure healthcare at the construction sites. If someone is infected with coronavirus at a site, necessary actions should be taken immediately.
The government should also introduce health insurance for the workers. Covid-19 testing booths should be set up at the project sites. If someone gets infected, the government has to make all the arrangements for their treatment.
The government must build an isolation centre on each site as well. There should be arrangements to take the workers to a designated coronavirus treatment hospital if necessary. Only then will the foreign consultants and contractors be encouraged to come.
The Japanese government has banned travel for its citizens to 12 countries, including Bangladesh. Our government has to prove that it has taken all effective measures to deal with Covid-19. Then the Japanese experts will come. Otherwise, our government will not be able to bring them at all.
There is a lack of confidence among people when it comes to working on construction sites. To rebuild this confidence, the government should take all necessary measures and bear all costs.
Next, the government has to resume construction works step by step. We have no idea when the novel coronavirus will go away. So, the construction works have to move forward by adjusting to this new situation.
Healthcare is not so good in our country, but if we ensure medical care like that at the Padma bridge construction sites, consultants will come.
It is an opportunity for the government. It will be a great success if the government can take the work of megaprojects forward even amid the coronavirus crisis. In an uncertain situation, the government should also ensure quality work by strong monitoring. As the works have been stopped, it will take time to start them anew and speed up implementation.
The author is a professor of Civil Engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet)