The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) has recommended introducing monitoring and evaluation cells in all of the ministries and divisions
The think-tank at a dialogue on Wednesday said the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) needs to be decentralised and strengthened in terms of human resources and equipment to ensure the proper implementation of infrastructure projects under the Annual Development Programme (ADP).
The CPD in partnership with the Asia Foundation arranged a discussion titled "Public Infrastructure Projects in Bangladesh: Ensuring Good Value for Money" at a city hotel in Dhaka on Wednesday.
Presenting his keynote speech at the event, CPD Distinguished Fellow Professor Dr Mustafizur Rahman said, "Physical, social, digital infrastructure will play a critically important role as Bangladesh prepares for graduation, addressing the challenges of dual graduation – middle income and graduation from the LDC Group."
Investment in infrastructure projects leads to enhanced productivity, higher competitiveness, reduced transportation costs, access to greater social services, and closer integration with regional and global markets, he added.
He also said Bangladesh requires an additional $928.48 billion to meet the SDGs, while more than 73% of the additional resources are required for developing infrastructure.
"An additional public investment of Tk1 attracts a Tk4 investment from the private sector. But the pace of infrastructure project implementation fails to meet the challenges," he added.
Quoting the Global Competitiveness Index 2019, Dr Mustafizur said Bangladesh ranks 114 out of 141 countries in the world and stands at the bottom out of five South Asian countries.
A total of 1,243 ADP projects are being implemented for 4.6 years on average, while 258 projects for more than six years. Some 39 projects of the ADP are going on for 10-15 years, he noted.
"Bangladesh lags behind in the global context in terms of infrastructure due to lower implementation of infrastructure projects," Dr Mustafizur said, adding that the country achieved 2.39 points out of 5 regarding the infrastructure pillar of the Logistics Performance Index, while India scored 2.91 and Vietnam 3.01; Bangladesh's score ranged between 2.11 points and 2.24 points for the last two decades.
Project revision is becoming ingrained in Bangladesh's development practice, he said, noting that some are justified, but many are not.
The ADP of the next fiscal year contains 291 projects that were revised once, while 64 projects were revised twice, 12 thrice, and 2 were revised four times, the CPD said, adding, that a total of 31 projects were revised by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) in FY22, which amounts to Tk29,471 crore - equivalent to building another Padma Bridge.
Dr Mustafizur urged the government to engage stakeholders and tentative beneficiaries of any project in the stage of preparation and implementation to ensure the best return from the project.
He also recommended strengthening citizens' engagement in monitoring and evaluation.
He highlighted strengthening IMED's institutional capacity to enable it to deliver mandated support.
Stating that about 123 posts out of 338 remain vacant in the IMED, he recommended enhancing human resources.
"Put in place a dedicated laboratory for testing the quality of construction works in the IMED," he said.
There are various problems from project formulation to implementation. Every year, the IMED identifies such problems and makes specific recommendations. But ministries and divisions do not conform to such recommendations, resulting in regular project time extension and cost escalation, Mustafizur noted.
Planning Minister MA Mannan at the event said physical infrastructure is the primary need for developing countries like Bangladesh.
"We have been expressing dissatisfaction over various project related issues. For example, some projects are running in Panchagarh, but project directors are staying in Dhaka," he noted.
The government has to decentralise and strengthen the IMED. But there are some administrative constraints in this regard.
Vice-Principal Dr Md Abdus Shahid, MP, chairman at Parliamentary Standing Committee on Estimates, said at the event that ADP projects are being revised once, twice, thrice and even more. The estimates committee asks project directors and secretaries several times about the causes and rationalities of such revisions during a meeting.
There are some possibilities of corruption in the implementation of the public projects and programmes. The government is aware of reducing anomalies and ensuring proper implementation, he also said.
Fahmida Khatun, executive director at the CPD said at the event, public infrastructure projects are critical for economic and social development for any country.
The projects should be implemented complying with efficiency and affordability to ensure proper economic returns through low price services for all.
The authorities should justify the returns of a project prior to formulating it. The internal rate of returns reduces with any delay in the implementation stage. The costs and impacts on the people and the economy should be assessed prior to the implementation of any project.
She also said, "We have a lack of skilled people, such project directors, project officials and contractors, to implement projects."
The implementation of most projects is being delayed and costs are increasing due to a lack of skilled officials and a lack of sincerity.
To ensure the implementation of development projects, the CPD recommended creation of a development structure in the fashion of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Rizwan Rahman, president at Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said, "We have a substantial deficit in infrastructure and source of financing. The Public Private Partnership model will play a good role in financing the gap, but the board of PPP authority has no representation from the private sector."
He said about 65% of the ADP was implemented in the first 11 months of the fiscal year, but it reached near about 100% with a big jump in the last month.
He asked about the rationality of a huge ADP implementation last month.
Dr M Masrur Reaz, chairman at Policy Exchange of Bangladesh, said, "We have to create about 2.2 million better jobs each year to achieve Vision 2041, and private sector investment requires 36% of the GDP from the current 22-23%."
Foreign direct investment should reach 3% of the GDP, which is about 0.5% for the last couple of years, he also said, adding that exports will increase about nine times by 2041. Infrastructure is the key to achieving the goal.
SME Foundation Managing Director Mofizur Rahman said work on Dhaka-Gazipur Road has been going on for many years. It should be further examined whether completion of a project within the stipulated time is taken seriously from the beginning.