Project management challenges

Malakand is an administrative unit of the Malakand District located in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KPK). Malakand Rural Development Project (MRDP) is a poverty alleviation project financed by the Asian Development Bank and sponsored from the Government of NWFP. The loan was requested by the Government of Pakistan for the development of MRDP in Malakand region. The primary objective of the loan was poverty reduction. Despite this, the validation report of the Malakand Rural Development Project states that the project failed to achieve its two primary objectives.

The guidelines for procurement of goods and civil works set out by the Bank were not followed. The distribution of rams, bulls, and chicks ended up in the hands of either inexperienced acquaintances or locally connected persons. In addition to this, the recruitment of NGOs and social organization staff which compromised their merit and neutrality. It created an organization with a nonprofessional culture and politically motivated staff. This led to the social organizations serving their personal interests over national interests.

Due to lack of leadership and institutional anchor, PMU had a disproportionate focus on the physical input without linking them to project output and outcomes. The PPRA identified severe irregularities and non-compliance with the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s guidelines leading to dissatisfactory performance and implementation delays. It was due to poor supervision of the engineer consultants, possible fraudulent practices in contract executions, and low-quality materials used, and work done for roads.

There was also poor communication of the project scope among the executing agencies and individuals. MRDP was a multifaceted project with multiple line departments which made project implementation and coordination difficult. There were not enough incentives given to the employed staff and PMU and line departments were seen to be busy in turf battles. There was also ineffective change management. Under the Devolution Plan, no formal arrangements were made with the new district governments to assist them coordinate in the project area and carry out their new responsibilities.

The project also had a weak accountability mechanism, and no risk mitigation system was created to ensure successful completion of the project. According to the performance report, the road development component of the project had an environmental impact due to inappropriate road designs and other related factors.

Given the difficult socioeconomic environment and weak implementation and coordination capacity, it’s important to develop a detailed and objective analysis of project implementation risks. Secondly, the project scope was too wide to cover insignificant subprojects. For instance, development of provincial roads should not have been a component of the rural development project. Thirdly, to work in a demand-driven, community-based project, the authorities should opt for a supply-driven approach which also allows the communities to make informed choices about their priority needs. Lastly, ADB or any other such organization needs to set clear expectations for the executing agencies and track critical project milestones to setup accountability and project’s progress.

CHERYLL PATRAS,

Lahore.

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