Creating a cadre of development administrators

| Updated: October 22, 2017 01:20:36

Creating a cadre of development administrators
The stock of unspent aid money has bulged to around $19 billion. The amount is enough to build as many as five bridges, each equivalent to the one now being built over the mighty river Padma. 
The bulging stock of aid money, no doubt, has been a cause for concern for the policymakers. At least, on a number of occasions they have expressed their dissatisfaction over the poor utilisation of funds made available by the so-called development partners. But policymakers have not done anything particular for greater utilisation of the unspent fund. 
Most part of the unspent donors' fund is project assistance. Both bilateral and multilateral donors have committed funds against scores of development projects. But mainly because of the failure of the ministries and other government agencies to fulfil the conditions attached to external assistance against the projects, the stock of unspent aid money has bulged over the years. 
Experts have mainly blamed the administrative incompetence, in relation to negotiations with the donors and preparation of development projects and implementation of the same, for accumulation of a large volume of unutilised aid money in the pipeline. 
However, procedural complexities on the part of the donors are also held partly responsible for low utilisation of the project aid. Nearly one-fourth of the aid in the pipeline belongs to the World Bank (WB). All concerned are well aware of the caution exercised by the Bank prior to releasing aid funds against development projects. 
It is unfortunate that even 45 years after gaining independence, the officials concerned have not been able to acquire the required negotiating skill so that they can get development project assistance released in due time. This speaks of the weaknesses in the procedures used for recruiting public officials. 
The lack of command of English language among most government officials remains a major barrier to holding successful negotiations with their foreign counterparts. The officials, in most cases, do fail to communicate with their foreign counterparts and officials of donor agencies since they are not that proficient in English language. 
Since donors tend to ask too many questions about development projects and use of funds thereof, the officials are found to be more interested in taking up projects entirely dependent on local resources. A lack of transparency and accountability is the hallmark of the local resource-based development projects. The reason for being interested in such projects is the opportunity available to misappropriate a part of their funds rather easily.  
That the officials are more interested in local-resource-based projects is evident from the number of such projects that are submitted by different ministries and other public sector agencies for inclusion in the annual development programmes or its revised versions. They tend to avoid seeking foreign funds for obvious reasons. 
There are quite a number of instances where major donors have taken back their portion of contributions either for irregularities detected in the fund utilisation or inordinate delays in the execution of the projects concerned. 
However, amidst all the negative developments surrounding the aided projects, the executing agencies are usually found quite efficient (?) in causing delays, deliberate or otherwise, with a view to hiking the cost of projects. 
The classic example of such delays was a local resource-based bridge project---Khokserghat Bridge at Dimla Upazila in the district of Nilphamari. It took 16 years to complete the project. The delay has taken its toll on the people living in the area and also on the national exchequer. The original cost of the project was Tk 23.2 million. But because of the delay the cost of the project just went up by nearly 100 per cent to Tk 43 million. 
Many high profile projects are also having the same experience. The road sector projects are particularly vulnerable to delays and also cost escalation. The Dhaka-Chittagong and the Dhaka-Mymensingh four-lane highway projects are recent examples. The Padma Bridge project which is now at its initial stage of implementation, in all probability, would go beyond its schedule. Its cost has already been hiked once and further hike in the future cannot be ruled out either.
So, inefficiency and incompetence on the part of the officials manning the executing ministries and other relevant government agencies do not only concern the use of development assistance but also the implementation of development projects as a whole. Very rarely, a development project is implemented as per schedule and at cost estimated originally. 
So, the entire development administration does require a major shakeup and reorganisation. The government may consider creating a special cadre of development administrators instead of remaining dependent on officials belonging to other cadres for preparation and execution of development projects. But the recruitment process to be followed for this special cadre needs to be rigorous and perfect. 

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