That two government agencies, according to a report published in this paper, are at odds over grabbing the job of constructing a mega project is a rare development. But it has happened in the case of a multi-billion taka project, styled, Dhaka-Chittagong Expressway.
The organisations, namely, the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) and the Bridges Division-- both controlled by the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges--have expressed deep interest in building the expressway that is considered a very important physical infrastructure.
In fact, the RHD has already submitted a project to the Planning Commission (PC) with a proposal to construct it under PPP (private-public partnership) initiative. The PC reportedly refused to endorse the project proposal, mainly because of the opposition coming from the Bridges Division. However, there are other reasons for the PC's reluctance to put the project proposal before the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) for approval.
The Bridges Division officials say after getting green signal from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) it is now working on the project.
The primary reason for demonstrating 'deep' interest in building the expressway is understandable. The project being a mega one would involve huge cost. The higher the cost is the greater the chance of making easy money by the unscrupulous section of people remaining involved with project execution. The delay in project execution does make scope of fetching illegal money even wider.
The chances of delay in the execution of such a mega project are almost 100 per cent. All major road infrastructure projects, both implemented and ongoing, have faced delays and their costs have gone up manifold. The Dhaka-Chittagong four-lane highway and the Dhaka-Mymensingh four-lane highway are glaring examples. There are other instances where delays and cost-escalation had been shockingly abnormal. Volumes have been said and written about it, but the situation has not changed.
The ECNEC has been approving projects worth over billions of taka at every of its meetings in recent times. But the weaknesses of the project executing agencies have not been removed. Their capacity remains well below the desired level for a number of factors, including shortage of skilled manpower and logistics. Corruption is another major reason behind deliberate delay in project execution and poor quality work.
People involved with the execution of public sector development works pointed out the 'main factor' that has prompted the RHD and the Bridges Division people to show strong interest in the execution of the Dhaka-Chittagong Expressway project. The factor here is the high cost involved with the acquisition of land for the purpose of building the expressway that would run parallel to the existing four-lane Dhaka-Chittagong highway.
The acquisition of land for any development project involves high level of corruption. The government officials concerned usually pocket a hefty sum through the process of land acquisition.
The cost of the Dhaka-Chittagong Expressway project has been estimated by the RHD at Tk 135.39 billion and the agency has proposed to spend Tk 108.88 billion out of that cost. The RHD itself, according to the project proposal, would acquire the necessary land, carry out other development works and then it would invite international tenders for building the expressway under the PPP initiative.
The PC has smelt rat and has asked the RHD to rationalise the huge cost the latter proposes to spend on land acquisition.
One can, thus, get the idea of how the implementation of a project of high economic importance is delayed. It is most likely that the tussle over the job of building the expressway project between the RHD and the Bridges Division would continue for some more time. By the time the dispute is resolved, the selected project executing agency would feel the need for reassessing the cost of the project. In that case, the project cost would invariably go up. The project proposal would be submitted to the PC, which is likely to find a few faults in the proposal and send it back to the relevant agency asking to make necessary changes/amendments. When the project will be taken up for approval, the cost enhancement issue might come up again then or later. Thus, none knows for sure for what would be the actual time of completion and actual cost of a public sector development project in this country.
There is no denying that the size of the government's development budget has been growing constantly. But the capacity of the agencies involved with the spending of the allocations has not improved, both qualitatively and quantitatively. So, it is high time the government took into cognizance the relevant issues seriously for making some tangible improvement.