The main problem with our project design lies in the feasibility studies, which have become mere formalities in Bangladesh.
People's money is taken based on this document's portrayal of utility and rate of return. But the feasibility studies are carried out here casually. And the government is actually partly responsible for this. Because they just want to hasten the process.
Countries around the world take a lot of time in designing and planning so that implementations are completed on time and within the stipulated budget. This is a sign of capability.
But we exhibit signs of incapability as we fail to conduct upfront field visits, document the challenges, or document the problems that other projects create.
In the approval process, all are 'yes sir' people. It means no one is looking after this seriously. That is why we see problems with our planning, encounter conflicting projects and discover flaws in our design. And design flaws occur because they are devised in the desktop environment instead of field level inspections.
Personally, I have seen many feasibility documents. The international standard and seriousness of the word 'feasibility' have diluted in our country. And everyone seems to be accepting this, and hence, quality of project design is deteriorating to an abject level day by day.
So how to get out of this? We need people of knowledge. The flaws in these feasibility studies are obvious and easily understandable. One just needs to understand it with compassion.
We need professional and visionary people who can predict the future, have proper ideas about potential problems and other ongoing projects and who will take on projects after taking all these scenarios under their consideration.
In this regard, comes the role of the planning commission. All the projects go here. None, except the planning commission, knows which projects conflict with one another. For example, the roads and highways will not know about a railway project, and vice-versa.
If the planning commission had powerful and knowledgeable multimodal planners – who see the country with domain knowledge instead of fragmented information, the scenario would have been different.
The approval process here has no such knowledgeable person. The planning commission is the weakest. It is a planning commission only in the name, there are no planners here. That a project 'won't work,' there is nobody to say this 'won't work.' The absence of this, I think, is the reason everyone is encouraged to work casually.
Our four-lane road construction costs are higher than in countries like China, Indonesia, Turkey and India. There are both reasonable and unreasonable reasons behind this. The unreasonable costs start with the feasibility study.
To show the project as lucrative and to pass the approval, many of the costs are kept hidden in the feasibility studies. They don't document some costs. They know that once the project rolls in, the costs will be added automatically.
But now that the extra costs have been added, the lanes of the road haven't increased. So when we compare the unit cost, we see many sorts of additional costs added. Truly, we should feel ashamed that here our unit cost is more than in Europe.
So, we have enough scopes to reevaluate. And, the feasibility should be made as legal documents. If we make this a legal document, the planning commission will have to appoint in-house planners who are deserving. If we can appoint such planners, the costs will remain within the reasonable limit.
Disclaimer: Professor Dr Shamsul Hoque spoke to The Business Standard's Masum Billah over phone. This article is an excerpt of the conversation.