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Meeting targets

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Development is the responsibility of all governments, but achieving it often becomes a challenge for many of them. Almost half of the Government’s development projects and programs managed under 47 line ministries have not reached even 50% of quarter one targets, putting renewed focus on efficiency, management and getting the most out of public funds.  

According to the Finance Ministry on Government expenditure during the first quarter, Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera told Cabinet this week that financial progress of projects has been recorded at 43.7% against the targeted expenditure for the period. 

The Government has allocated a colossal Rs. 700,686 million for 1,354 projects and programs to be implemented through the line ministries, however four ministries – Development Assignments, Special Assignments, Public Enterprise Development and Foreign Employment – have not identified such programs for implementation in 2018.

 Out of the total allocation, 84% amounting to Rs. 589,159 million has been allocated to 1,271 projects through annual budgets estimates while the balance has financed 83 projects through different implementing agencies from their revenues and direct loans. 

Recording a total Government expenditure of Rs. 403 billion during the period, the report also notes that 444 have not achieved even 25% of the first quarter agreed physical target. Out of these, 148 large-scale projects have only recorded 35% of the target for the period. The sluggishness of these projects holds a key to public frustration and diminishing confidence in the Government. Politicians are well known for announcing ambitious projects, usually accompanied by hoopla, but focus limited attention on them reaching the targets. As the term of this Government ticks down, these results will be a critical part of how people evaluate this Government.  

Only six line ministries have been able to achieve at least 75% of the quarterly expenditure target in at least three-fourths of projects implemented by the institutions. Further, 12 line ministries have not been able to achieve at least 25% of their expenditure targets set for 75% of the projects implemented by themselves.

The reasons given by ministry officials for the low performance rate include delay in preparatory works and procurement works, procurement issues, poor performance and cash flow issues of contractors, outstanding bills, delays in third party approvals and delays in land acquisition. These are many shortcomings within the Government system which should have been tackled at the start of this Government’s term. New procurement guidelines, for example, were drafted out and gazetted in May after over two years of consultations, but are yet to reach Cabinet or be approved by Parliament.

Procurement and cash flow issues are not just bottlenecks that delay development projects. They are also critical points that allow corruption and wastage to seep into the system. Public money should be used in the public’s interest, but there are few points at which public funds are adequately protected.

The Government recently announced several ambitious development projects, such as ‘Gamperaliya’ and the latest stage of ‘Pibidemu Polonnaruwa’, that are expected to be rolled out over the next few months. These cannot be implemented in lieu of existing development projects. The Government has to pay attention to its own evaluations and ensure that existing projects are taken forward with the same attention to priority.

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