Prominent economist Dr Ahsan H Mansur, the executive director of Policy Research Institute (PRI) of Bangladesh, speaks to the Dhaka Tribune’s Shohel Mamun regarding the ten fast-track mega projects and explains the reasons behind their slow progress
Getting at the heart of the matter, why are the fast-track projects making such slow progress?
In order to boost the economy, the government has set ten projects on the fast track, aiming to strictly monitor their progress and have them completed within the schedule time. However, due to very weak basic preparation, the progress has been very slow.
Basically, there are several reasons for the slow progress: Firstly, the preparation for the projects has not been thorough and the investors have not been properly briefed. This has led to fund crises for many of the projects. The Padma Bridge Rail Link, the Kutubdia LNG Terminal and the Sonadia deep sea port have all been stalled because of a lack of funds.
Secondly, the officials running the project work are inefficient. The Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar Railway Line project took six years to complete because the Bangladesh Railway does not have efficient officials who can prepare the project documentation properly.
Finally, the construction firms have been negligent and this has added to the slow progress. The government should have thoroughly vetted the firms before giving them work orders. Firms like Chinese hydropower engineering and construction company Sinohydro do flawed jobs and should not be given work orders and yet have been handed projects several times.
These reasons do not cover projects like the Metro Rail or the Payra sea port. Why have those projects been delayed?
The Metro Rail project faced delays because of the Holey Artisan attack last year where many Japanese citizens were killed. The Payra sea port project has been delayed because of total negligence on the part of the government.
When the projects are complete, how will the economy be impacted?
The Padma Multipurpose Bridge, the two power plants and the sea ports are very important projects because they can accelerate our economy massively by improving local trade and export-import and increase employment.
However, the longer it takes to implement these projects, the faster these benefits will be lost. For example, the Padma Bridge project is now costing five times more than the estimated cost. After the project is complete, the government will need a lot of time to return the investment.
Is the slow rate of implementation wasting public money?
The Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar Rail Line project was undertaken in 2010 with an estimated cost of around Tk5,000 crore, but now has cost over Tk18,000 crore. By the time the project is implemented in 2022, I think even this increase in cost will double. This means there will definitely be a lot of wastage of funds.
The government plans to allocate more funds for the fast track projects in next fiscal year. Do you think access to more funds will speed up the rate of progress?
Irrespective of the smooth flow of money, the projects will continue to be delayed because of technical issues. These mega projects will need time for construction.
For example, the Padma Bridge piling work is being done in the river. If they find that the estimates are incorrect and they need to do more piling work, then the problem will be time and not money. Just because the funds will be easily available does not mean that their timeframe will change. Money cannot help lessen the time needed.