ISLAMABAD: A $73-million foreign-funded project that Pakistan had undertaken to ensure food security through better planning of water resources is facing execution problems due to lax management by the government.
In its latest report on Water Sector Capacity Building and Advisory Services Project, known as WCAP, the World Bank has again termed the progress towards achievement of the project goals as “moderately satisfactory”.
It is not for the first time that the World Bank has given a poor rating to the project. Since 2008, when Pakistan had signed the first loan of $38 million, the World Bank has conducted 17 reviews of the project. The scheme earned seven poor ratings on account of achievement of goals. The World Bank also graded the project as moderately satisfactory or unsatisfactory 11 times on the scale of overall implementation progress.
However, in its fresh implementation status report, the World Bank changed the overall implementation rating from moderately unsatisfactory to moderately satisfactory after the government appointed a new project director from January this year.
The wastage of foreign loans remains a concern, particularly at a time when the country is heading fast towards a debt trap.
The officials in the Ministry of Water Resources blamed the government’s decision to give additional charge of the project to a government servant for poor performance of the scheme. The new project director, Ahmed Kamal, is primarily the Federal Flood Commission chairman. The $73-million scheme is not his primary responsibility. Before him, Water Ministry Joint Secretary Syed Mehar Ali Shah was the project director for a few months.
The Planning Commission’s guidelines, which were issued after getting approval from the National Economic Council, state that the projects having more than Rs3 billion costs should have independent full time project directors.
But it seems that the World Bank also does not have a problem with the government’s decision to run the scheme through ad-hoc administrative heads.
“Over the life of this project there have been a number of different project directors, but all have been government officials with other official government responsibilities, and this has not in of itself restricted progress on the project,” said a spokesperson of the World Bank.
The spokesperson said that the project director has always been a part-time role filled by a government official, supported by a full-time technical team leader recruited from the private sector and the recent appointment of a new, well regarded and highly experienced team leader bodes well for accelerating implementation.
Dr Akhtar Bhatti has been hired as the team leader for the project.
In November 2015, the World Bank had approved an additional credit of $35 million to scale up project activities and consolidate gains made under the initial phase, taking its total cost to $73 million or Rs8 billion at the current exchange rate.
The capacity-building project has been under implementation since 2008. It was scheduled to be completed by 2014 but was extended further. The project was restructured on March 15, 2012 due to low disbursement ratio, duplication of some and emerging new priorities in the wake of the 2010 floods, according to the World Bank documents.
The component structure remained the same, however, some new activities were added and others were dropped due to lack of progress.
Pakistan’s economy is largely dependent on the management and development of the water resources of the Indus River Basin. The country relies on the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world, the Indus Basin Irrigation System to provide basic food security.
However, the water availability in the Indus Basin River is highly seasonal with 85% of annual river flows occurring during June to September period, making storage imperative.
Under the second phase of the project, the government aims at improving the telemetry systems for better monitoring of the waters shares allocated by Indus River System Authority to the provinces, said an official of the water resources ministry. He said that the strategic studies of the Kabul Basin are also planned for better predictability of the water flows from the Kabul River.
The official said that the main reason behind recent poor ratings of the scheme was the slow disbursements of the loan. In order to address the World Bank’s concerns, the government has fast tracked the procurement processes, he added.
The official hoped that the World Bank would change the project rating after the next mission, which is expected to visit Islamabad in March.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2018.
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