A country needs to develop effective methods of evaluating projects and their governance to ensure long-term benefits. This is crucial for countries such as Ethiopia, which have few resources it can afford to lose, Asmamaw Tadege (PhD) (email@example.com), associate professor of project management at Norwegian University of Life Science.
In an article I wrote for this paper, "Effective Project Governance - the Missing Link" [Vol 15, No 777, March 21, 2015], I asked who should be made accountable when large projects end up with excessive cost overruns or benefit shortfalls.
The time has come to ask again as reports are now uncovering the pitfalls that surround projects such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the sugar projects. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
We need to see beyond individual projects and reorient our focus toward improving the country's project governance system.
Ethiopia is a developing country with few networks of physical infrastructure. News of a road, dam and power line engenders excitement among politicians as well as ordinary people.
In such an environment, it is often the case that the authorities and the policymakers merely become promoters and fail to stop and take a good look at the value of projects that are implemented and being implemented. Despite the huge amounts of funds that are spent, evaluation of whether or not the projects meet the intended benefits or negative impacts they may have on social wellbeing could be lacklustre. Such a phenomenon is shockingly normal.
Project success can be viewed from different perspectives. Until recently, government reports indicated that large projects in Ethiopia are progressing as well as can be - just some delays and minor inconveniences along the way. This is despite the fact that the projects have generated within the public a perception of inefficiency, overspending and corruption.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's (PhD) more honest reappraisal of large enterprises was just a confirmation of the rumours that were fermenting on the ground.
What perspective to use when evaluating a project is a political issue, depending on the interests of different parties. Some are interested in operational results and others on the strategic societal perspective.
Whatever the case, the government has an obligation to prove to citizens that it delivers the best possible value for public spending. People have the right to know about any loss of public money.
There are several ways to examine the country's project decision and execution frameworks. Identifying the governance lines of individual projects and evaluating how projects were initiated, developed and implemented will help to draw a lesson and draft a better governance system.
This can be by looking at individual projects that underachieved, such as the sugar projects and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and tracking the shortcomings back to their origins.
The investigation can help to uncover why the decisions were made; if concepts have been sufficiently prepared; if the project implementation teams are selected according to the rule of the country's procurement law; if key decisions are made based on correct information; and whether projects are executed or being executed following the required standards for the projects.
The goal of such investigation is to deploy a proportionate level of scrutiny on the decision-making processes of the projects and on the projects' performances to know what works, what does not and why. It will help to draw lessons and develop a better project governance framework for future projects.
A good metaphor could be a person lost in the forest while hiking. If that person slugs on without taking few moments to understand how and why that position of non-determination has been reached, then there is reason for worry.
Similarly, if we rush to start new projects and programs for short-term economic benefits or for political expediency without evaluating what had previously gone wrong, the consequences will not be to our liking.
This is crucial for developing countries such as Ethiopia where resources are low. Not knowing how, where and when to invest will create a great deal of harm. Worse, the risks and the negative impacts associated will come when we are ill-prepared to address them.
The early history of the London Underground is a memorial to poor project governance. Researchers point to the enormous costs future generations had to pay as a result of the poorly conceived underground tube that bore little relation to the metropolitan growth of London.
This is in contrast to the Paris Metro, which opened decades later with far better planning and integration with the French capital.
In an action film, protagonists make many mistakes, but everything tends to work out in the end. However, in real life, if one crosses a busy road without looking, the outcome will not be pretty.
Implementing large projects is a real-life business. It is indispensable to be aware that large projects are fragile. Their dynamics also change with time. If they are not well prepared and implemented, instead of tending to go slightly wrong, they tend to fall apart. The country will play significant socio-economic and political costs.
In this sense no matter how eager we are to transform the country, we should not rush to implement large infrastructure projects and complex programs with unclear risks, poor project implementation strategies and unqualified project management teams.
We need to examine the decision and execution frameworks of large projects that have been implemented in the last three decades. We need to draw lessons and improve the project governance system of the country and establish checks and balances that need to be in place on behalf of the public to ensure successful investments.