Pick projects cautiously to save fund for coronavirus jab

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has directed ministries to undertake new projects cautiously to avoid unnecessary public expenditure as the government will have to spend a considerable amount money to procure Covid-19 vaccines to immunise the whole nation, officials said.

She ordered to drop projects that are not deemed necessary under current circumstances.

The directive for the line ministries came at a virtual meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) yesterday.

In June, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal set aside an additional Tk 10,000 crore for the health sector to meet emergency expenditures amid the pandemic.

The country may need more money to strengthen the weak health sector, buy safety equipment and Covid-19 vaccines.

According to an estimate of the finance ministry, Bangladesh might need between $1.65 billion and $2 billion to vaccinate the nation of 165 million.

The finance ministry is asking for more than $1.5 billion from the development partners to procure and distribute the vaccines.

Initially, the government is aiming to buy three crore doses of vaccines at $5 apiece. The finance ministry has so far released Tk 735 crore for the health ministry, a source in the finance ministry said.

In July, the government had decided to put a hold on the implementation of low-priority development projects to free up funds for the productive sectors amid widening revenue shortfalls.

The finance ministry has recently softened the stance on the disbursement of funds from the ADP for the low-priority projects bowing down to pressures from the line ministries and also because of improvements in revenue collection.

The prime minister also directed the ministries to prepare a list of contractors, highlighting ones which implement projects on time and those that don't meet the deadlines, said Planning Secretary Md Asadul Islam, while briefing the reporters after the Ecnec meeting. 

The directive is aimed at preventing some contractors from getting too many work orders, allowing new firms to win work orders and ensuring timely implementation.

As contractors cannot complete projects on time, it compels the government to extend deadlines and increase the cost of projects. In Bangladesh, most of the projects are revised more than twice, delaying the implementation and causing cost-overruns.

The meeting discussed that some contractors get more work orders. As a result, they can't finish the works as per the deadline, said a source who was present in the meeting.

The provision of a foreign tour of 32 officials under the "Expansion of improved varieties of grasses for the development of animal nutrition and transfer of appropriate technology" project was discussed in the meeting.

Of them, 27 officials are from the ministries that have nothing to do with the project. The meeting instructed to drop their names.

Regarding the foreign tour, the planning secretary said the foreign tour had been allowed, but the number of officials has been reduced.

The Ecnec meeting approved seven projects involving Tk 10,702 crore. The government funding is Tk 6,749. 27 crore and the rest Tk 4,242 crore will be mobilised as foreign aid.

The expansion of improved varieties of grasses for the development of animal nutrition and transfer of appropriate technology project under the fisheries and livestock ministry will cost Tk 116.6 crore. It will be implemented between April 2020 and March 2024.

The meeting also approved a project to construct more than 100 five-storied buildings in Khurushkul, Cox's Bazar, to rehabilitate 3,606 families, who have become homeless due to the expansion of the airport and the climate change. The Khurushkul Special Shelter project would cost Tk 1,334 crore.

According to the proposal of the planning ministry, 119 five-storied buildings will be constructed. In addition, about 23 kilometres of internal and connecting roads, 36km of drains, 26 special pumps, 8km of water lines, 14 overground water reservoirs, four cyclone centres, solar panels and several other infrastructures will be built.

The meeting approved the revised proposal of Payra deep seaport in Patuakhali, increasing the cost by Tk 1,024 crore and extending the deadline by two years.

The cost of the seaport project rose by 23 per cent from the last estimate of Tk 3,350 crore to meet the additional expenses on land acquisition, among others.

The Ecnec approved the "Establishment of Sheikh Hasina Weaving Village Phase I (first revised)" project, raising the cost to Tk 307.45 crore from Tk 253.30 crore originally.

Other approved projects are the Western Economic Corridor & Regional Enhancement Programme (WeCARE) Phase-I: Rural Connectivity, Market and Logistic Infrastructure Improvement Project; Identification System for Enhancing Access to Services (Phase II); and WeCARE Phase-1: Development of Jhenaidah-Jessore Highway project.     The Ecnec has instructed to complete the Jhenaidah-Jessore Highway project by 2023 instead of 2025 as proposed by the planning ministry.  

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