FHM Humayan Kabir
The government has taken a move to raise the ceiling relating to the cost of a project that the Ministry of Planning (MoP) can approve -- from Tk 250 million to Tk 500 million -- to speed up the project approval process, officials said Saturday.
Development analysts, however, said the move, if operationalised, projects and schemes will be approved more on political consideration and that too in a year ahead of the general election and it is likely to lead to misuses of public funds and a compromise on the quality of project work.
Currently the Planning Minister can approve a project involving a cost of maximum Tk 250 million while any project involving a cost above this level requires the approval by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC).
"Since most of the time the lingering approval process delays project implementation under the development budget, the Planning Commission has taken the move," a senior official at the Commission told the FE.
Under the move, the Planning Commission (PC) also suggested for raising the ceiling relating to the cost of a technical project proposal (TPP) that a ministry can approve -- to Tk 200 million from the existing Tk 70 million, he said.
According to development analysts, if the project approval limit, in terms of cost, for the MoP is raised, there are likely possibilities for misuses of public funds and a fall in the quality of work.
"This will increase the number of projects in the development budget that are approved on political considerations. Their quality will also be affected," said development researcher Dr Zaid Bakht.
PC officials said they were working on the proposal of enhancing the limit of the ministries and the Planning Commission about approval of projects under the development budget.
A senior PC official said the development partners of Bangladesh also suggested that the government should avoid sending small projects to the ECNEC for approval to cut procedural delays.
General Economics Division (GED) Member Prof Shamsul Alam said the Planning Commission had recently held a meeting and drafted the proposal in this connection.
"The improvement of capacity of project implementing agencies and their line ministries is a must for quickening the process of approval. The planning wings of the ministries and the Commission should be strengthened first," he said.
"Usually, the ministries and their agencies take a long time to recast their project proposals as per suggestions of the Planning Commission after the evaluation meeting. This delays approval by the ECNEC," Prof Shamsul said.
Mirza Azizul Islam, former finance and planning adviser to the caretaker government, said since the competence and capacity of the ministries were low in Bangladesh, the move for enhancing the limit of the ministries and the PC for approval of projects will hardly bring any good result ultimately.
"The quality of work will be hampered. The number of political projects will increase and this will create a scope for misuses of public fund," he told the FE.
A top Planning Commission official said if the concerned ministries were allowed to approve a technical project proposal (TPP) worth Tk 200 million, up from the existing limit of Tk 70 million, it is likely to create a room for misuses of public funds.
"Since most of the TPPs are questionable in terms of their quality and relevance, the proposed move for upgradation of the limit will encourage the government agencies to prepare less-priority schemes or projects," he said requesting for anonymity.
Dr Zaid Bakht, also a Research Director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said the government should ensure proper scrutiny by the PC to ensure the quality of work of any project.
He suggested for improving skill of the agencies and ministries and strengthening inter-ministerial coordination before undertaking development projects.