Business News of Monday, 28 January 2013

Source: B&FT

US$1.5bn World Bank funds held up

About 13 out of 26 World Bank-funded projects in Ghana that were supposed to have been completed within three to five years have run far beyond their completion dates, with some running for as long as eight to nine years, the B&FT has found.

As a result, over US$1.5billion of funds -- out of US$2.3billion approved in total -- remains in the World Bank’s chest, waiting on implementing agencies to get their acts together.

Officials of the Ghana Office of the Bank say that over-aged projects may not be extended if implementing agencies do not expedite action on them.

The officials say lengthy administrative processes have accounted for the delays in the implementation of the projects. In other cases, compensation payments which are supposed to be borne by the government of Ghana tend to delay project implementation.

“Over the past years we have seen slow implementation of projects funded by the bank...perhaps because projects are becoming more complex; but there is sometimes a governance problem, and also a bureaucracy problem.

Government takes loans for projects, puts people in charge of these projects -- who are being paid very well to implement them -- but somehow things happen so slowly,” said Kofi Tsikata, Senior Communications Specialist of the World Bank’s Country Office in Accra.

Mr. Tsikata described the irony thus: “You are a government, you have challenges in your country, and you go and borrow money to invest in various aspects of your economy. The onus is on you as government to make sure that you implement those projects very quickly and properly, making sure that there is value for money and that the investments yield good results and impact positively on the lives of your people....”

Mr. Dante Mossi, Senior Country Officer of the World Bank noted that the implementation of most projects follows a country’s systems, laws and regulations -- which sometimes take too many steps to be resolved.

“The important fact is to learn from our projects how to do better with Ghanaian public investments. Perhaps more systematic processing of bidding documents, contract signing, and management is needed. Ghana has changed into a more complex and sophisticated country, and some country systems must evolve as well to reflect this progress,” he said.

While many urban dwellers battle with lack of potable water, US$85.3million remains undisbursed out of US$153million that was approved for the Ghana Urban Water Project. Initially, US$103million had been approved on July 27, 2004 -- but US$50million was subsequently added to deal with cost overruns partly due to the delay in implementation. The original completion date of December 31, 2010 has had to be revised to December 31, 2015.

The Urban Water Project involves system expansion and rehabilitation, public-private partnership development, capacity building and project management, and a severance programme.

The original closing date of the Ghana Urban Transport Project of December 31, 2012 has been revised to December 31, 2014. The approval date was June 21, 2007. An amount of US$ 19.9million remains undisbursed out of the total project sum of US$45million. The much-talked-about Bus Rapid Transit System is a component of this project.

For the Ghana Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) Project, the original closing date of December 31, 2011 has been revised to June 30, 2013. The project was approved on January 5, 2006 and out of the project sum of US$34.1 million, US$15.6 million remains undisbursed.

The project aims to, among other things; enhance the competitive and employment levels of Ghanaian MSMEs by building an integrated market access and trade facilitation infrastructure, and supporting entrepreneurship development.

According to Mr. Tsikata: “A component of the project under which an ICT Park is being constructed in the Exports Processing Zone near Tema has suffered significant implementation delay, due to indecision by Free Zones Board management and Ministry of Trade to allow the construction of a storm drainage facility to avoid flooding of the Park during heavy rains. This is lamentable.”

Still, the original closing date of March, 31, 2012 for the eGhana Project has been revised to June 30, 2014. The project, which is among the better-performing ones, was approved on August 1, 2006 and later expanded to include a Ghana Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) component which brings the total sum to US$84.7-million, of which US$44.2million remains undisbursed.

The objective of the project is to assist in generating growth and employment by leveraging ICT and public-private partnerships to develop the IT Enabled Services industry, and contribute to improved efficiency and transparency of selected government functions through e-government applications.

A number of other projects, according to the Bank’s progress report, are trailing their original closing dates and are not likely to be completed on schedule.

Asked whether the country is really getting the right impact from all these investments, Mr. Mossi said: “At the end of each project, there is a joint assessment, called Implementation Completion Reports, which measure progress. Some investments are highly successful, and stand the test of time: for example, Akosombo Dam and numerous other investments made in the energy and telecommunications sectors since independence.

“For some other projects, we have failed to obtain sustainability -- such as the Tema waste water treatment plant located behind Sakumono, which was built and then abandoned because TMA could not pay for electricity. We have learned a lot in project design and implementation over the decades, and hopefully should apply these lessons to new projects to avoid falling into similar pitfalls.”

The World Bank Ghana Office admitted that its procurement processes may not be the easiest, and with good reason; but said it expects that since government functionaries have been working with the bank on various projects since the 1950s, they should have become familiar with the bank’s procedures.

“Any challenges in implementation of projects have a direct impact on the standard of living and the poverty status of the people. We need to make sure these projects deliver their results in the agreed time.

Government must monitor the implementation of development projects seriously, whether it is funded from government’s own resources or from donor resources.

People put in positions of authority in the implementing agencies must not see things as just ‘another government project’ and do business as usual. They must take implementation seriously.

They must know that implementation delayed is equal to benefits denied,” said Mr. Tsikata.