Public projects hamstrung by lack of information and cost overruns

1 Dec 2018
Public projects hamstrung by lack of information and cost overruns

Wahidullah Azizi, Integrity Watch Afghanistan

KABUL: In mid-November 2018, CoST Afghanistan launched its maiden Assurance Report after the country joined the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative headquartered in London. The assessment report looks into eight big projects, which include roads, a dam and a retaining wall scheme.

The projects worth millions of dollars are meant to benefit the public. Lack of information from the entities concerned and “primitive” recording systems were outlined as major issues in the Report. The ceremony to launch the Report,  hosted by the Ministry of Economy in Kabul, drew participants from civil society, members of the Multi-Stakeholder Working Group (MSWG), government officials and relevant entities, including the National Procurement Authority head, who emphasized the need for such assurance reports.

Chief Executive Officer Dr. Abdullah, speaking at the event, declared that transparency and access to information was “vital” to improving the quality of public infrastructure projects. The report’s findings showed that only 27 percent of relevant information was accessible. Dr Abdullah promised that the situation on the ground would be improved.

Non-security-related issues that significantly question the quality and durability of mega infrastructure projects received little or no attention despite repeated calls for focus on them.

Naser Timory, head of advocacy and communications at Integrity Watch, hit out at the government’s inadequate attention to big road projects, a failure which negatively affects the country’s economy and which adds to the existing problems citizens have using roads.

He cited the unsatisfactory condition of the busy Salang pass which remains in dire shape despite resources having been allocated to it. “Qaisar Laman is another example. It has not been completed despite the passage of more than a decade,” he reminded the participants.

Cost and time overruns are some of the other major issues, according to the Report, which also points to the effects of timely execution of infrastructure projects. The eight projects selected for the study saw an average of 19 percent of cost overruns and about 119 percent  extensions in timescales.

An earlier study conducted by CoST Afghanistan confirms the findings that time and cost overruns are the two key issues hampering the completion of infrastructure projects on schedule. The reasons for the overruns are related to the design and project preparation stage, and include incomplete surveys and tender documents.  This is obvious from the Doshi-Pul-e-Khumri, Kandahar Airport and Kabul-Logar roads — two of the eight schemes covered by the report.

In order to improve the situation, the report offers a number of recommendations. It calls for procurement entities to develop a national portal for sharing information on public projects and a legal framework which encourages and forces access to information — a requirement that is in line with CoST standards.

Afghanistan became a member of CoST in late 2013 following a strong emphasis by the Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee — also known as MEC — on the need for greater transparency in public infrastructure projects.

Integrity Watch hosts the programme in Afghanistan while the Ministry of Economy is leading the initiative with the process of assurance and disclosure.