Our aim should be to successfully implement all priority projects


By Muhammad Bashir Chaudhry
Dec 16 - 22, 2002

Asian Development Bank (ADB) has reportedly approved technical assistance grant (TA) of about half a million dollars a few days ago to the government for strengthening capacity of the Planning Division / Departments, at federal and provincial levels. TA funds would be utilized to: improve efficiency of project evaluation, implementation and monitoring system; identify existing weaknesses and reasons for delay and suggest remedial steps; develop a comprehensive data base for key project activities with networking arrangement for constant flow of information; and to identify core staff requirement and logistic support, define responsibilities, and provide extensive training for capacity building. TA is expected to help improve all phases of development projects.

Increased financial allocations and the number of Public Sector Development Projects, with changing sector priorities and larger participation by the stakeholders, etc. are factors that necessitated corresponding improvements in the working of the project executing agencies as well as the entire system of project evaluation, implementation and monitoring. This was imperative in order to best utilize the scare resources and to get the maximum benefits from these projects for the common people. However, due to lack of capacity of the executing and other agencies, the projects were delayed, experienced overruns or other problems. Sometimes, the projects were left incomplete for a number of years to come. All this deprived the people from the intended benefits. This has to change and we should have done so many years ago. ADB assistance to the government for the purpose is very much welcome. Our aim should be to successfully implement all priority projects in all parts of the country within the allocated financial resources. Getting best value for the money is the key. Improvements in the following project areas are particularly suggested for consideration of the government and the executing agencies:

PROJECT SELECTION: Projects should improve the lives of the maximum people. Matters such as project location, physical parameters, expected benefits, etc. should be debated at length before any project is cleared for implementation. Participatory approach at the approval stages may enlist the support of the concerned people and also weed out low priority projects. This would also strengthened weak areas in the projects and thus the people may get the maximum benefits. The projects need to be selected and implemented on least cost basis. This will be possible only if the selection of the project is proper and the award of contracts is transparent, on merit and according to the prescribed rules.

REALISTIC COST ESTIMATES: The project costs are generally padded up due to various reasons and considerations. The executing agencies build in provision of a number of contingencies for possible hitches at approval and implementation stages. In a number of cases, the project cost shown might be in the range of 150% to 200% of its realistic cost. Sometimes, frills are added to the projects to justify higher cost. Practical utility of the project is not affected much if the frills are removed. Only essential elements of the project may be included and financed. Some times, costs are padded to provide for potential delays in the release of project funds to the contractors. All these factors complicate the procurement and implementation process. The situation can be improved through down or progress payments. Funds should be made available when due for payment. This will encourage the contractors to avoid padding of costs and the projects would be completed early and within realistic budget.

PROJECT EVALUATION AND APPROVAL: Things would change for the better if the whole process of selection, evaluation and approval were overhauled. Perhaps there is need to introduce new blood to the various committees that are associated at approval and other stages. Similarly, the formats used at present in the project preparation might be updated. The project teams appointed by the executing agencies might also be better motivated and trained for the purpose.

TAKING GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES ON BOARD: The role of every officer in the government service is critical. They have a role in preparing the project, getting it evaluated, procurement, construction, monitoring and finally commissioning. The Government may enlist their support in the timely execution of development projects. Once they start looking at things with positive frame of mind, it will spur economic activity and thus promise progress and prosperity for all. The Government might consider revision in salary scales of all civil servants in order to bring pay package nearly at par with the market. Training courses may also be arranged for learning modern techniques and to improve their performance on job. The employees are in a position to effect savings of considerable magnitude in the expenditure incurred for various services and projects. Motivated officials can prepare better project documents and execute the projects within time and cost.

PROJECT LAND ACQUISITION: The acquisition of project land involves large financial outlays and therefore needs careful watch by the higher authorities. A number of project land scam cases are reported in the press. Large amount of money are alleged to be misappropriated by certain persons in collusion with a few of the officers concerned with land acquisition. It may be noted that the NWFP Government some time ago had, as a precautionary measure, banned transfer (mutations) and development of land falling under water reservoir of the proposed Kkhurram-Tangi Dam. It is said that Islamabad recently announced execution of the multi-purpose Kkhurram-Tangi Dam primarily meant to enhance country's water storage capacity. The list of villages, which would fall, in the project area of the dam has already been prepared for the purpose of implementing the ban. Similar precautionary steps may also help other governments and authorities in plugging the holes with potential for misappropriation and thus conserving resources meant for execution of the projects.

CONSTRUCTION CONTRACT/PROCUREMENT: Through the public procurement, major share of the country's public resources is being spent - and reportedly a substantial part of it is presently wasted. The Transparency International, in its report to the GOP some time back reportedly observed that Pakistan could benefit greatly from an almost total overhaul of the country's procurement systems, institutions and rules. Full transparency of bid evaluation process and application of strict and transparent procedures to the selection of consultants can improve the quality of procurement. As regards the procurement procedures prescribed by the donor agencies, Pakistan may discuss the matter and try to bring uniformity in the rules. Good value for the money must be assured in all procurements.

AVOIDING PROJECT DELAYS: Delay deprives the people from the possible benefits of the development projects. Delays generally cause cost overruns. Non-availability of funds or other real or imaginary issues among the counter parties may disturb the implementation schedule. The project contractor might not be performing well. Possible reasons for his poor performance may be his incompetence or his collusion with the officers who are supposed to supervise the project construction. Different executing agencies may adopt measures to avoid delays. The district governments may execute maximum number of projects in house. This way the officials would get the experience and the executing agency shall also save the contractor profit. The authorities have to be careful that the officers do not use their official position for private benefit. The officials should be motivated through better pay and allowances that they do not expect gratification from the contractors. Also, names of the team of officials supervising the project as well as the contractors together with the completion cost might be written near the inaugural plaque installed on opening of the completed projects. The project teams would be better motivated and might implement the project more diligently.

THE CONSULTANTS: The consultants are helpful most often but should be used carefully. Good and conscientious consultants can help execute the projects within cost and time. Such consultants may be encouraged and used more often. The 'Consultants' who during discussion throw big names but are without long practical experience or successful projects should not be encouraged. Such 'Consultants' will only damage the project. It is better to do without them. It is said that the Integrity Pact concept developed by the Transparency International, has brought satisfactory results for one of the projects of Karachi Water and Sewerage Board. We must use maximum local consultants for advice or vetting different aspects of development projects. Pakistani counter parts (junior consultants) must always be attached to the foreign consultants.

ELIMINATING MISAPPROPRIATIONS: It is important to eliminate leakages of funds or misappropriations, under whatever names. In a recent audit report to the PAC, the office of the AGP has detected over-payments, misappropriations, negligence, violation of rules and propriety. The amounts allegedly involved under each head are large. These amounts, if put to proper use, could finance a number of social or physical infrastructure projects of common good. Most of the projects will now be implemented through the district governments or the provincial governments. The GOP might request the AGP for preparing an appropriate instructions manual on the subject and circulating it to different executing agencies so that misappropriations and other weaknesses in the implementation of the projects could be reduced.

NEW PROJECTS ALLOCATION CRITERIA: The executing agencies might be asked to demonstrate that all existing projects executed / sponsored by them were making satisfactory progress and only then a new project may be allocated to that agency. Further, the executing agencies or departments with large number of audit objections of alleged misdeeds as reported by the AGP or PAC might not be considered for fresh allocations unless they show satisfactory progress in resolving the issues pointed out by the auditors. This approach would introduce more discipline in project preparation and execution.

EARLY UTILIZATION OF LOAN/GRANT FUNDS: Donor agencies have often complained of the slow utilization of sanctioned loans. Non-utilisation of the available loans sometimes has hindered the sanction of fresh loans to the country from these agencies and causes a setback to the development programme. At the same time, the unutilised loans attracted commitment charges.

PRIVATE SECTOR PARTICIPATION: People wish for early execution of development projects by the federal, provincial and district governments. Among others, these projects shall generate employment and alleviate poverty, both problems being pervasive and growing fast despite government efforts to bring improvement. The government surely will continue efforts in this regard but it appears the government alone might not be able to cure this situation. Pakistani people with God given financial means can help reduce poverty and create employment. The Government may urge the resourceful people to initiate development schemes at modest scale to help improve physical infrastructure in the vicinity of their areas. Good people may start building or repairing civic infrastructure in their localities or in slums. Activities such as repair of sewerage lines, repair of school buildings, furnishing of schools with furniture and other teaching aids, repair and furnishing of health units and so on. These activities will provide comfort to common people in addition to employment to the jobless. This will also supplement the efforts of the union councils, which at the moment are in need of both funds and trained manpower. The government may facilitate the initiation of such projects by the private sector for the com