THE Bangladesh Railway’s approval for a proposal seeking an increase in the cost and an extension to the deadline of an ongoing project to make the Dhaka-Naraynganj railway route dual-line and dual-gauge reflects a worrying pattern of delayed and slow project implementation. The proposal has sought to increase the project cost by about 107 per cent on the original Tk 378.73 crore and extend the deadline for the third time till June 2023 against the original deadline of June 2018 which were approved by the National Economic Council in 2015. Although the project officially began in October 2015, contractors began work in February 2018. The deadline was first extended till June 2019 for a delay in land acquisition and second till June 2021 for the COVID-19 outbreak, without increasing the project cost. The latest project evaluation of February sought to increase the cost by Tk 403.68 crore, taking the total cost to Tk 782.41 crore.
All this betrays a pattern of delayed project implementation that impacts the economy by way of increased cost and weakens the intended benefits. What is concerning is that the development motto of a faster implementation for an effective development appears to be lost in Bangladesh, which routinely fails to implement projects on time and within the budget. This has happened even with fast-track projects. The Asian Development Bank in 2019 observed that Bangladesh lags behind in completing most projects on time and within the budget causing cost overruns and lowering the expected benefits. The implementation of 10 fast-track projects including the Padma Multipurpose Bridge, Padma bridge rail link and the Dhaka Mass Rapid Transport is sluggish even though the government put special focus on them with special monitoring having been put in place. The Padma Multipurpose Bridge could be a case in point in which the deadline has been extended on five occasions while the project cost has been revised upward to nearly four times the initial cost.
The government must, therefore, attend to the problem of the delayed implementation of projects, many of which are funded, fully or partially, through external credit, that too on suppliers’ credit and short-term borrowings at high interest. The government must ensure a fast and quality implementation to reap the intended benefits from the development projects and not to let the economy suffer. The delayed implementation of projects is a manifold burden that the government must do away with. The authorities concerned should, therefore, review the proposal at hand.
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