When we take up development work, we take the route of simple development plans. We cannot walk on complex routes, because we do not have capable manpower.
What we are facing now with the Karnaphuli tunnel should have definitely been identified in the feasibility study.
Tunnels are bridge-like facilities that will go straight - for instance, the Cox's Bazar road and the Chittagong Basin, creates a triangle. However, there should be an interchange. It is not about increasing or decreasing traffic, rather, about an interchange being created. A common intersection does not enable communication broadband connection – and people who do not have this common sense are now spearheading the development projects.
The Padma Bridge is a good example of infrastructure development that has made travel to Dhaka from the southern districts smooth. However, at the entrance of Dhaka, whenever you enter Jatrabari, you get stuck in a traffic gridlock. This is a reflection of our 'partial' development, due to the absence of an integrated, holistic development plan of the entire route.
This is an institutional weakness - that we do not learn before we encounter physical obstacles and stumble. It is a shame that we come to our senses only after someone literally points it out.
For those who conduct the feasibility studies in our country, it has become a mere formality. A comprehensive, holistic idea of a development project should be presented in the feasibility study phase. It is not just about this project, but all projects.
For any road transport development project, whenever time is extended for whatever reasons, everyone in the development chain is equally responsible. Why? Because how come they did not ask why the feasibility study failed to predict the obstacles in the first place? It is the sole job of the feasibility study to estimate what happens in the decades to come. All the challenges and actions are supposed to be documented in the feasibility studies.
The feasibility activities that happen here [in this country] are of very low standard, and accepting low standard work reflects our overall low standard in capacity. Why did the commission fail to realise that the report is not adequate? The planning commission is supposed to be full of efficient planners, just like any other country.
It is not just this tunnel project that the Bangladesh Bridge Authority has undertaken, the commission is responsible to coordinate with all other projects that are under progress.
However, we do not have planners for coordinating the feasibility and multi-modal development at any level. As a result, our development projects are stumbling [case in point the Karnaphuli tunnel] and we cannot get expected returns. The synergy of a complete plan and the one that is amended [in an ad hoc approach] cannot be the same.
Additionally, when someone learns upon stumbling onto a problem, it is called real learning. But we can see that we are not learning either. There are no planners in the planning commission and in the institutions. Positions in the planning sectors are often called "dumping" or "punishment" posts.
Since our government has lofty dreams, we have to focus on research, planning and development like the rest of the world, so that our development projects end on an estimated time and budget. We need brilliant minds here so that they put forth brilliant plans and things do not go south.
The question of accountability
When it comes to extending project duration and cost, one after another, good governance becomes critical. The development projects are being carried out on people's money. If there is a flaw here, definitely, someone should be held accountable.
In Bangladesh's context, we have little land but a large population. So, our development planning needs to be very futuristic. To be futuristic requires talent.
The construction part does not take much talent. For example, when you build a home, you go to a good architect. If you go to a good architect, s/he will give you an excellent design. To translate the plan into action is not a tough job. However, if you go to three architects, they will come up with three different designs.
What the whole world does is that they first identify their existing capacity and how to best utilise it, equipment needed for the job, before commencing a development project. If I want to get the best return for the least amount of investment, I need to find the top expert for my project.
If I do not have these people in my country, I bring them from abroad. This is what Dubai is doing. They find the best planners in the world and bring them onboard for their construction projects; it is no big deal. And they have their own construction firms to materialise the project.
But in our country, planning is the most neglected area. This is a critical lacking that is making us stumble hard and fast.
When a feasibility study is submitted, no one realises what is lacking. And when the lacking is revealed, no one is held accountable, instead it becomes an incentive of sorts. Because the contractor finds it doubly rewarding, the consultant finds his job extended for more years and the project director would also find an excellent idea to get rewarding outcomes from the mistake.
But in all these, the element of good governance required to execute the real 'excellence' at the taxpayers' money is missing from the picture.
As a result, after all the development work, the government cannot get rid of such blame because there are no planners and knowledgeable people at any chain of development. Instead the focus remains only on construction oriented activities.
If there was focus on planning, things would have been different.
The author is a professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet)