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Pride projects show poor progress track record



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By Modnath Dhakal
Kathmandu, July 24: Administrators and private sector have blamed nepotism and poor preparedness for the pathetic performance of the national pride projects.
Despite giving top priority in budget, policy and procedures, about 85 per cent of the projects are facing cost and time overrun.
Every programme, including recently completed Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP) and Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project (UTHP) as well as the final-stage project Gautam Buddha International Airport, have poor progress track record, with some of the pride projects running in their 33rd year since inception.
Melamchi was about to complete in 19 years in 2021 against its initial projection of five years while Babai Irrigation is running in the 33rd year, Sikta Irrigation Project in the 15th year and Postal Highway in the 14th year. Worse, West Seti and Budhigandaki hydroelectricity projects have failed to take off even 24 years and a decade after their incubation respectively.
"Despite large investments, the projects continue to exhibit poor result. Although some projects are said to have made good progress in recent years, they have already missed multiple deadlines and caused extra burden to the state coffers," Revenue Secretary at the Ministry of Finance Ram Sharan Pudasaini said in a virtual interaction organised by Management Association of Nepal (MAN) on Friday.
The large projects have also been the victim of mismanagement. Bheri-Babai Diversion Project completed its tunnel with the modern boring machine but when the channel was ready, intake,
head works and distribution channels were not built.
According to Pusadaini, the UTHP will run at full capacity soon but there are doubts whether the generated power will be fully utilised. Work at MWSP is still in progress, and Mid-Hill Highway has become the victim of multiple changes in its alignment. "Every powerful local person or leader wants to take the pride project through their courtyard," he said.
There is no cost-benefit analysis of any national pride projects. Take an example of UTHP. Its original cost was estimated at Rs. 36 billion. That figure has now risen to Rs. 80 billion.
Pudasaini said that while a project has been mired in cost and time overruns, project manager has not been subjected to punitive actions but rather are promoted.
The status of expenditure at the pride projects in the last fiscal year 2020/21 is about 58.8 per cent of the total budget. "It’s the inefficiency of the project managers and concerned agencies, and contractors," he said.
Likewise, he stated that most of the projects are underfunded and that they are launched without managing resource or financial closure. Pudasaini also suggested sun-set laws to facilitate timely execution of pride projects through a special mechanism.
Former Secretary of the government Gopi Nath Mainali said that too many organisations -- like board, authority, department and company -- in project management have marred the development.
"There should be a dedicated government agency to look after the pride projects. There is no tendency to appoint project managers in line with their qualifications and capacities. Nepotism has caused a great loss to the country," he said.
According to him, there are unnecessarily high number of monitoring and inspection agencies which have not made positive impact on the project development.
He suggested making the programme managers responsible for the results of the project.
Similarly, former Secretary Shankar Adhikari said that unusual demands from the local/affected people, multiple changes in procurement master plan, low bidding, less competitive consultants are the reasons behind the poor progress in the pride projects.
He stated that selection of project managers and other staff on the basis of nepotism, favouritism and political interest, ownership deficit in the part of stakeholders and signing contract agreement before completing the preparatory works have damaging consequences on the pride projects.
President of Federation of Nepalese Contractors' Associations (FCAN) Rabi Singh said that a pride project should be a game changer, inspire people and bring about tangible change in the society and economy.
He said that capacity of the development ministries as well as the contractors is poor and should be enhanced at the earliest.
The projects are also facing challenge in managing construction materials in time, about 90 per cent crusher industries are running illegally and developers are forced to pay high price for the material.
Deependra Bahadur Kshetry, former Vice-Chairman of the National Planning Commission and Governor of the Nepal Rastra Bank, suggested removing many of the pride projects from the category and run them as normal projects instead.
Former Director General of the Department of Agriculture Bharat Upadhyay said that leadership is not selected on the basis of the competency, rather on political background of the candidate.