Saturday, 24 July, 2021

Governance In Project Management


Modnath Dhakal

Every political party makes tall claims of infrastructure development, connectivity and technological advances in their election manifesto, governments announce large projects through the budget and fuel the public hope of a good future, and international donors come forward to support the programmes and projects.
But it takes the country to initiate a project more than a decade, it fails to complete the distribution of land compensation to the affected of Budhigandaki Hydroelectricity Project in more than five years, contractor of the Melamchi Water Supply Project flees after achieving 97 per cent progress, canal of Sikta Irrigation Project breaks at multiple locations during its testing, government allocates Rs. 10 billion to a project that could make the financial progress of only Rs. 140 million, and more than 1000 projects are sick. This is a dream versus reality in Nepal.
The government has made nine amendments to the Public Procurement Bylaws in the past eight years but failed to meet the demands of the contractors. This single event is enough to demonstrate the maturity, accountability and commitment of the ministers and high government officials to development. Yet again, the maladies in public construction have not been resolved and remain intact till date. There is rare evidence of project completion before the deadline.
Most of the contractors hold multiple projects and don't complete and project in time which has created pressure in the state coffers due to the time and cost overrun of the development projects. Contractors have siphoned off more than Rs. 24 billion in 20 per cent mobilision costs for projects that have been identified as sick by the anti-graft agency Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA).
Highlighting upon these burning development issues, Professor Rajendra Prasad Adhikari has come up with a book that sheds light on almost every aspect of public procurement and project management. Titled 'Sushasan ra Prabhavkaritako Kasima Sarbajanik Procurement and Construction Project Management', the book deals upon the promises of the ruling party, including the now ousted Nepal Communist Party (Maoist Centre), 14th and 15th periodic plans and history of public construction in Nepal as well as current policies and practises.
Divided into nine chapters, the book makes a detailed analysis of the current situation of public procurement, construction project management, national pride projects, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Belt and Road Initiative and sectoral areas of physical infrastructure irrigation, water supply, energy, roads and rails, aviation, water transportation, building and reconstruction.
One of the strengths of the book is the analysis of national pride projects. He has analysed major pride projects like Sikta Irrigation, Budhigandaki Hydel, Nijgadh International Airport, Kathmandu-Terai Expressway and Melamchi Water Supply. Although the analysis lacks in depth critical debates, it presents the overall status of the projects and reasons behind their delay or failure. For example, Budhigandaki was included in the pride list without a feasibility study and Detailed Project Report, its capacity was increased without considering the future consequences on human settlement and environment, and its contracts were not transparent.
It has two special chapters on the capital city Kathmandu and construction sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adhikari suggests making time extension on the project-basis not as a blanket policy decision, conducting delay analysis and facilitating in the supply of construction materials, making decision after discussing the issues with the private sector entrepreneurs, paying special attention to the health and safety of workers of all infrastructure projects, initiating rescue fund and formulating a dedicated mechanism to address the problems created by the pandemic. Since coronavirus has become a serious blow to employment and economic activities, both the government and private sector should work to retain the employees and workers and announce relief packages for them.
Likewise, the chapter on the Kathmandu Metropolitan City upsets the reader with its continuous failure in the realisation of the development projects. The Author has presented the list of projects that the KMC announced in its programme and policies as well as in the budget but couldn't even start them in three years period. The announcement by Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya to complete '101 jobs in 100 days' had become a fiasco. Shakya's election manifesto had mentioned cable cars, monorails, electrical smart buses, bus rapid transportation, smart city transport card, vertical car parking and underground parking and initiated integrated valley development in cooperation with other municipalities. Of these main projects, none have taken off.
The book also presents a collection of programmes and policies on current periodic plans, budget preferences and detailed sectoral mentions of the election manifesto. It has categorically presented the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the development of major infrastructure projects that can be useful for the policy makers, government authorities as well as the private sector developers. However, in most of the instances, the writer has presented the current situation and left the part of analysis. He has also evaded criticism of governments past and present, which will be clearly felt by most readers.
Although the readers can make their own inferences on the basis of the evidence presented in the book, it would be satisfying for them to have the analysis or opinion of the expert like Adhikari about the maladies/constraints in the development sector. He prescribes that the development projects should have strong preparedness and be based on facts and statistics and concludes that bad governance is the main reason behind the poor status of public construction. The book can be a good reference for the practitioners as well as the students of development. It is worth having in your collection.