The rate of execution of the country's annual development programme (ADP) for the just concluded financial year (FY 2019-20) has been disappointingly low. The rate of execution of development projects, according to a report published in this paper on Friday last, was only 57 per cent during the first 11 months of the last FY, the lowest in last 10 years. The performance estimate takes into account the revised ADP, not the original one. The execution rate would be even lower had it been evaluate on the basis of original ADP outlay.
The track record of a good number of agencies entrusted with the task of implementing the development projects has been unsatisfactory. Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic, as in the case of all other economic activities, did leave a negative effect on the development project execution, particularly during the general holiday declared by the government between March 26 and May 30 last to help contain the spread of the deadly virus.
Moreover, there is a hole in the estimation of development project execution rate; the release of funds against projects is taken as yardstick here. Actual progress in implementation of most projects is always low.That is why it has become more of a routine affair to extend life of projects more than once along with cost escalation. Special attention, however, is given to mega and priority projects and executing agencies do keep a tab on such projects since people in authority take special interest in those. Even such projects do suffer setback because of problems such as bureaucratic complexities, lack of transparency and accountability and poor monitoring by the relevant official agencies.
What is, however, ailing the country's development administration most is the lack of capacity on the part of the executing agencies. The ministries and divisions concerned are also not adequately equipped in terms of manpower and logistics. Other troubling issues include frequent change of project directors (PDs), involvement of one PD in the execution of more than one project and appointment of people with no prior experience in project execution as PDs.
A case in point is the appointment of physicians as PDs of a number of health sector projects. Such appointment, allegedly, has affected the progress of many important development projects in the health sector. This particular development has come to the fore as the Covid-19 pandemic started taking a heavy toll on life and livelihood. So, failure to select appropriate management people remains an issue that needs to be attended to on a priority basis.
Lack of discipline in the selection of development projects and political interference are also major weaknesses that have remained unaddressed for long. What is more worrying is that the act of thrusting politically motivated projects on the Planning Commission for inclusion in the ADP has gained pace lately. In violation of normal procedure, projects are included in the ADP sans proper feasibility studies, if any.Volumes have been said and written about this unhealthy practice. But that could not deter politically influentialelements from indulging in it. There is no denying that size of the country's development budget despite all the weaknesses has been growing without a pause. The policymakers would make a great service to the nation if they took realistic steps to remove hurdles to execution of development projects.