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Government’s last-minute approval for high-cost projects raises eyebrows

  • Published at 01:24 am November 9th, 2018

In the first week of November, Ecnec has met twice to approve 67 projects worth Tk116,921 crore

The recent rush by the government to approve a large number of infrastructure projects is aimed at swaying undecided voters with the next general election only weeks away, economic experts have said. 

From July to September, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved 75 projects at a total cost of Tk56,819 crore. 

Since the first quarter of the current financial year, however, the number of rubber-stamped projects has risen significantly, according to data collected from the Ministry of Planning. 

In October, a total of 97 projects at an estimated cost of Tk103,563 crore were approved, while in the first week of November alone, a further 67 projects worth a whopping Tk116,921 crore were given the green light.

Eyebrows have been raised by the sudden rush to approve so many projects this close to the election, not least because Ecnec has already met twice this month, instead of its regular once-a-week meeting.

“The government approved the projects in a rush, without proper review, which is not a logical move,” AB Mirza Azizul Islam, a former finance adviser to the caretaker government, told the Dhaka Tribune.

“This move came undoubtedly because the election is knocking at the door.”

Mirza Azizul Islam said the government wants to show that they are still working, and will continue their work if they come back to power. 

“But if power changes hand in the upcoming election, the new government will scrutinize these projects to see if they will serve public interest,” he said. 

Economic experts believe the government hurried to act as it cannot approve any more projects now that the Election Commission has set December 23 as the date for the election. 

The experts are also concerned that the authorities did not properly review the projects before approving them, saying that doing so will not bode well for the country’s economy. 

Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow at policy-based think tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told the Dhaka Tribune: “We have found that many of the projects approved by the Ecnec have nominal allocation in the Annual Development Project (ADP) fund. Increasing the number of projects without proper financing is not a good practice.” 

Dr Bhattacharya also questioned the quality of the projects, and whether they had been properly reviewed. 

“If the government changes, these projects will be reviewed further, which will lead to a delay in implementation,” he added. 

Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said each of the projects had been thoroughly scrutinized before getting approved.

“I allowed so many projects to be approved because I will be spending more time in my constituency for election campaigning now that the schedule has been announced,” he said.