Saturday, September 19, 2020

Project monitoring and evaluation!

The basis and intentions of governments in investing on Monitoring and evaluation systems for development projects are known and probably taken as a given in most countries. I want to briefly reflect on an issue that has been a subject of debate in different fora and in most of our last parliamentary sittings. In the current sitting of parliament, the Minister responsible for the implementation, management, monitoring and evaluation of government’s major capital projects, informed parliament of the specific cost overruns of some of the current projects under implementation. Whilst the Minister was specific on mainly the sports stadiums, one might add that it this applies to most major projects in government.

Over the years we have seen construction projects like roads, dams, major hospitals, schools and others not only get extension. The additional millions reported by the minister are and should be a cause for concern for government and the citizen in general. When most of these projects are not completed on time and require so much of not only extension of time but more visibly the additional funds as is often the norm, it raises questions of whether our projects are adequately monitored such that minimal extensions of completion time are realised. I can hear someone say it’s normal for projects to be behind schedule and extensions and additional funds beyond the initial projected costs of projects are part any project planning and implementation system. That is certainly true, but the rate at which most of our projects never get finished as planned time-wise and in the process cost the tax payer millions of extra money should worry us all.

I am aware that there are agencies in government created to specifically monitor and evaluate the progress of government projects, at both central and local levels, but when we begin to reach a stage where most of the major projects never get completed on time, we begin to wonder whether these units are effective and able to put measures in place to instil discipline in contractors, inspectors and all those involved insuring that specifications, standards and timelines are adhered to. I for once do not want to necessarily insinuate dereliction of duty by the agencies responsible for monitoring and evaluation; they probably do have problems of resources and capacity to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we can have much more effective agencies in this regard, than they currently are. It is still a mystery as to why local governments still have to rely on the Project Implementation Unit at the central ministry. In line with empowering local governments should be attempts to create monitoring and evaluation units within the local governments.

The Project Implementation Unit at the Ministry of Local Government could then be restructured to be responsible for less regular periodic checks just to ensure that local governments do adhere to standards and specifications of their procedures and requirements. As for the central government projects, it is necessary that at all levels and stages people account for any delays and non adherence to timelines which in the process cost the government huge amounts of additional funds so often required to complete projects months beyond the original planned time. I am still convinced that our monitoring and evaluation systems at both central and local government level can be structured and empowered differently so that they can begin to save government huge sums of funds currently incurred in most of the major capital projects, which never get finished on time.

Part of the problem seems to be in the structures mandated to undertake monitoring and evaluation across the entire government machinery. Ministries have their individual units that do some form of monitoring and maybe some element of evaluation, albeit in a limited way, and the ministry responsible for all government projects has to establish a more coordinated and cost effective way of ensuring that all mechanisms across ministries do have the capacity and responsibility to adequately monitor and evaluate projects. It is almost a given that the complexity and diversity of government machinery will always present a challenge as to how far these agencies can be structured and equipped with the requisite skills and techniques for maximizing their efficiency and effectiveness. This challenge is however not insurmountable. In this era of computerisation and general technological advancement, it is very possible to have the structures and agencies that could considerably reduce government expenditure on cost overruns of projects across all government levels.

The need to be more vigilant in our efforts to monitor and evaluate our projects is probably more necessary in times like this when a lot of projects are shelved on account of the effects of the recent recession. A lot of these suspended projects are of critical importance to those citizens who were to benefit from such and when almost close to the cost of such deferred projects is spent on covering cost overruns for unnecessary extensions of projects, it makes appreciation of shelving projects very difficult. It is for this reason and many others not discussed in this piece that our ability to ensure that there are minimal extensions of major projects is and should be an area of major investment. I am writing this piece from the assumption that we probably agree that our monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should necessarily be intertwined.

This is not to discount possibilities of the link between these systems not appreciated in some government quarters. It is often a challenge to embed our evaluation systems into the monitoring ones or vice versa and it can be equally challenging to ensure that once embedded the system or mechanisms are deliberately meant to ensure a continuous monitoring and evaluation system. This should be the culture across the entire government agencies to ensure continuous adjustment and adaptation of projects to their intended objectives. The effectiveness of a well coordinated and structured monitoring and evaluation system is critical in reducing unnecessary project extensions for completion and consequently, limiting high expenditure on funds often required to complete projects beyond their intended/planned completion date. I trust and believe we can do better.

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