Md. Joynal Abdin
The Financial Express on March 9, 2016
A programme is a plan of actions made in order to achieve a specific result. In other words, a programme is a plan of things aimed at achieving a clear objective, with details on what is to be done, by whom, when, and what resources to be used. On the other hand, a project is a planned set of interrelated tasks to be executed over a given period of time and within a certain amount of budget and other limitations. Main objective of this article is not defining programmes and projects with a few sweet sounding words, but to analyse the development projects now being implemented by the government, NGOs, development partners. We all know that Bangladesh passed 44 years of its independence. Bangladesh has earned the experience of implementing of hundreds of projects with billions of Taka either with local fund or donor grants and loans. The main objective of all the development projects is to empower people to eradicate poverty, overcome infrastructure limitations, and effect employment generation, entrepreneurship development, industrialisation, rehabilitation, education, healthcare, communication development and so on.
We are happy to watch the country grow. But have we ever thought about the opportunity cost of all the projects and programmes implemented here in Bangladesh since independence? Bangladesh received about US$ 50 billion as foreign aid through government or non-governmental (NGO) channels. The sum is equal to US$3000 per head of our present population (160 million). Besides foreign aid, grants, loans internal funds were also being used in numerous development projects. Have we got optimum result out of this huge investment? The answer is obviously in the negative, because our earlier projects were not scientifically planned and designed with a broad vision.
Many plans, policies, targets and visions are now under implementation by 43 ministries and about 350 departments, directorates and agencies. Hundreds of development projects are approved by concerned authorities and implemented every year. Few projects have inter-ministerial coordinated components (combined efforts to address different needs). As a result, a good project of one ministry/agency may cause huge damage to other ministry’s/agency’s role. For example, over-bridges and flyovers were built to reduce traffic jam in the city. But the same over-bridges and flyovers are identified by experts as one of the major causes of traffic jam in the city.
The above phenomenon has arisen due to single-purpose programme planning by our decision makers. Time has come to give up this one-eyed (single-purpose) planning and think about multi-role project/mega projects. For example, Dhaka is one of the worst cities to live in (as per a few recent research reports) owing to its environment pollution and unplanned urbanisation. Traffic jam, shortage of public transport, water pollution, and environment pollution of Dhaka city could be reduced if a ‘Back Home’ mega project could be implemented.
The idea of this project is not to send everybody to their respective native villages by force, but to create a situation whereby people will automatically leave Dhaka. For example, an office executive at present has to waste an hour and a half to attend his office at Motijheel from Uttara or Mirpur. The same person can attend his/her office from Comilla easily if there is a fast train service between Comilla and Dhaka with only two stoppages at Daudkandi and Bhoberchar. It will not take more than an hour. Similarly someone from Gopalganj, Rajbari or even from Mymensingh may not require more than one hour to reach Dhaka by a bullet train. So we need a six-lane road with double railway lines from Comilla to Dhaka, Gopalganj to Dhaka, Rajbari to Dhaka and Mymensingh to Dhaka. We already have highways in these routes which should be developed. These four routes will allow half the Dhaka dwellers to move back to Comilla, Munshigonj, Narayangonj, Madaripur, Faridpur, Gopalganj, Rajbari, Manikganj, Narsingdi and Mymensingh districts.
These six-lane routes will not be a matter of connectivity only. These routes will facilitate economic development through industrialisation of respective districts. As a result, new employment will be generated. One such multi-role project can offer multi-dimensional solution to our existing problems.
Construction of multi-lane roads has multiple effects. Other projects like development of existing SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) clusters could also help provide multiple solutions to existing problems. For example, a cluster development includes several segments of activities like skill development of existing workers and entrepreneurs, creating new workers and entrepreneurs, upgrading existing machineries, establishing training centres, testing laboratories, storage facilities, specialied transportation system, market linkage, new market searching, and expanding value chain for maximum value addition, etc. As a result, new employment will be generated in each of the segments of the chain. It will raise productivity, improve product quality, augment sales, increase profit and so on. All of these effects will cause poverty reduction and ultimately usher in economic development of the country. Critics may argue, why SME cluster development instead of Special Economic Zone (SEZ), or Export Processing Zone (EPZ)? The answer is simple. SEZ or EPZ requires huge cash investment for infrastructure, utility and land development. On the other hand, in case of SME clusters, these are already available there. Plot allocation, utility supply etc. of a SEZ or EPZ may be controversial in terms of political identity or corruption. SME clusters are free from these controversies. Therefore it is better to think about development of existing 177 SME clusters without going for expensive industrial estates, SEZ, EPZ, etc.
The concept of multi-role projects could be applicable in every other sectors. For example, existing ‘Sadar’ hospitals located at district headquarters could be transformed into nursing institutes, medical colleges, medical technology centres and hospitals. It would require huge money and premises to establish a separate nursing institute, medical technology institute, medical college and a ‘Sadar’ hospital in separate premises as separate programmes. All these institutions can be set up in the same premises, or in other words, existing Sadar hospitals can be transformed into such a multi-role organisation and much lesser allocation will be required. A co-located multi-sectoral technical education centre concept can drastically change our existing education system and turn it into a practical demand-driven, profession-oriented education system.
It is time to think about multi-role inter-related/inter-connected institutions both in case of public and private entities through implementing multi-role projects. It could be far more productive with lesser investment.