12 September 1997

Ethiopia: Public Sector Project Follow-up: From Mass Media to MEDAC

Addis Ababa — A workshop was held at the Management Institute in Debre-Zeit from August 20-22 on draft guidelines for the follow-up of the implementation o f public sector development projects funded by foreign grants and loans.

The main objectives of the workshop were to try and improve on the con tents of the aforementioned draft guidelines through the exchange of views and to create a forum whereby participants might enhance their practical knowledge of the techniques involved in project implementation follow-up.

In his opening speech, H.E. Ato Girma Biru, Minister of the Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (MEDAC), said that it was difficult to say that foreign grants and loans to Ethiopia, although they had increased over the years, had been fully and satisfactorily utilized owing to the absence of uniform project implementation follow-up guidelines and procedures. In response to this difficulty, the Minister said, MEDAC prepared the guidelines (manual) on which the workshop was deliberating. The Minister made the following additional points:

the guidelines would make explicit the role of concerned units at the various levels of administration;

the presence of a uniform nation-wide manual on project implementation follow-up would assist in obtaining more foreign aid;

the guidelines would come into effect during the current 1997/98 fiscal year.

Among the major topics discussed at the workshop were: the concept of project implementation follow-up; the contribution of follow-up to project implementation; implementation follow-up experience in the country and major problems encountered; and information exchange on project implementation.

Three cheers for MEDAC's efforts to come up with a manual (or guideline) for the follow-up on the implementation of public sector development projects! But why is the manual restricted to only public sector development projects financed by foreign grants and loans? What about projects wholly financed by domestic resources? And what about projects which are financed partly with foreign grants and loans and partly with government money? We would recommend that all of these to be monitored by the concerned authorities under the aegis of MEDAC.

We would also like to suggest that MEDAC should be involved in the e valuation of planned public sector projects at the pre-feasibility and feasibility study stages. We believe that MEDAC's involvement at these crucial stages would help forestall resource wastages arising from the intrusion of non-economic and non-financial factors into the project decision-making process. A lot of savings could be made by rejecting white-elephant and politically pet projects!

A strong information system, obviously computer-assisted, would be required to follow up the implementation of public sector projects through out the country. Uniform reporting would be needed. A vast amount of information on the status of centrally and regionally executed public sector projects would need to flow from the bottom to the top and vice versa. Such information and data would include:

(1) the group or authority which did the feasibility study;

(2) date of completion of feasibility study;

(3) approving authority;

(4) stage of implementation during the reporting period;

(5) date of commencement of implementation;

(6) sources of financing and names of financiers;

(7) major implementation problems encountered;

(8) solutions worked out;

(9) date of completion of project;

(10) total outlay in domestic currency and foreign exchange;

(11) date of commencement of operation;

(12) major projects produced;

(13) whether the products of the project are domestically or externally oriented;

(14) total permanent jobs created;

(15) total temporary employment generated.

We would expect at least quarterly highlights on major public sector projects on the basis of such information gathered and processed. These may come in the form of a newsletter from MEDAC to be distributed to government and private institutions and, above all, to the government-owned mass media and the private press. It is unhealthy that at present nearly all the information the public receives regarding the status of public sector development projects comes from the often very tendentious government-owned mass media! Consider the following headlines from the government-owned English daily newspaper, The Ethiopian Herald.

"Arba Minch Airport Construction Completed"; "Development Projects to Go Operational"; "Zone to Undertake Construct ion of 36 Projects Next Year"; "Dam Construction in Tigray sa id Exemplary"; "Potable Water Projects go Operational"; "Construction of Vocational Training Center completed"; " ORDA Undertakes Various Development Projects in Ebnat Wereda"; "Commendable Results Achieved in Project Execution"; "Potable Water Project Lagges (sic) Behind Schedule"; "92 Schools to Become Operational Next Academic Year." The government mass media, most notably Radio Ethiopia are replete with news on central-government and regional development projects. Many believe that the excessive news focus on the progress of public sector projects has a political objective behind it, namely the brainwashing of the public with an aura of vibrant development activity and momentum.

This has led some people to call the whole propaganda effort "development by radio." Of course, people judge Ethiopia's tempo of economic development not by the ballyhoo on the radio but by the quantity of goods in their shopping baskets which their wages and salaries can buy, but these unfortunately have been diminishing to almost vanishing point over the years! Now, MEDAC's professional touch may end all this populist raising of false expectations by presenting the true picture of project implementation across the nation. We wish MEDAC good luck in its efforts to put the record on the matter straight. But when may we expect the first newsletter on public sector project implementation with the seal of MEDAC's professional authority on it?

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