When it comes to government infrastructure projects, it seems that management problems and vast cost overruns are the order of the day.
In the last decades, large infrastructure projects have continued to bleed the country financially while denying the targeted citizens the desired benefits.
Amongst the outstanding projects that were unsuccessful in recent times are the FengYue Glass Manufacturing Company, which swallowed P500 million, as well as Morupule B power plant, which cost more than P11 billion but still required major refurbishments.
Some observers indicated that the effects of cost overruns in the country are not confined to a single industry, but are reflected in the state of the overall economy of the country.
Recently, the Parliamentary portfolio committee on Transport, Works, Communications and Technology condemned government for what it termed “supply driven policy implementation,” noting that there is the propensity, particularly in the public sector, to undertake projects without due assessment of the need for such projects.
“Projects are developed because of the ability of the government to procure them than an assessed need for such projects,” the committee asserted.
While there is collective concurrence in Botswana that the country experiences poor project implementation, experts say little has been documented on causes of these problems.
However, a public finance expert at the University of Botswana (UB), Emmanuel Botlhale said there have been efforts to document causes of poor project implementation, such as declining public accountability, lack of commitment to reforming the public sector, decline in commitment by state authorities and lack of a culture of professional project management.
In his recent research paper titled, ‘Enhancing public project implementation in Botswana during the NDP 11 period,’ Botlhale stated that successful project implementation is critical in development planning, adding that if there is poor project implementation, economic development will be stalled.
“Successful project implementation will result in a successful project. However, successful project implementation is complex and difficult,” he said.
He stated however that this is not to say that successful project implementation is an impossible feat or a quest for ‘the Holy Grail’.
Botlhale highlighted the five phases in the life of a project, which are the initiation stage, planning, implementation or execution, monitoring and controlling and commissioning and closeout.
“The challenge, therefore, is to deploy all efforts to ensure successful implementation, and hence a successful project,” Botlhale said.
Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its technical assistance report on Botswana stated that despite relatively high public investment spending, the quality of infrastructure has fallen sharply in recent years.
According to the IMF, while Botswana performed better than peers and emerging market averages up to 2010, more recently, indicators of infrastructure quality, both survey based and physical indicators of access and service delivery, suggest significant bottlenecks, particularly in access to electricity supply and railways.
“Around one third of investment spending does not result in the level or quality of infrastructure of countries, which manage their resources efficiently,” said the IMF.
It said the efficiency gap for Botswana is 37%, which is higher than emerging economies and the average for all countries.
IMF stated that large inefficiencies in the provision of public infrastructure underscore the need to improve Botswana’s public investment management framework.
“To fully realise economic growth from public investment spending, a number of areas require further attention,” said the IMF.
While the Fund acknowledges the generally strong planning institutions that the country has, it said there is a need to improve project appraisal, selection, and monitoring.
It indicated that inadequate project management often undermines project implementation, noting that the current project development management system, which is meant to track progress in implementing projects, is not functional as reports are generated manually, sometimes with significant delay.
“Project managers for mega projects are not identified at the design stage, which could contribute to implementation delays and possibly cost overruns during implementation.”
Another challenge that the international organisation identified is the lack of experienced engineers, which it said could put government at risk of developing infrastructure that needs to be replaced or repaired at significant cost. Other researchers have found that clients and project managers play a major contributory role in activities that lead to project cost overruns at conception or planning or designing phase.
In many cases, they say the project implementation phase allocated blame to contractors, architects and quantity surveyors for cost overruns, while quantity surveyors and contractors were found to be responsible for cost overruns at the completion or commissioning phase.