Minister Mannan makes a U-turn, says bureaucracy is hindering development

Planning Minister MA Mannan has rowed back on his remarks defending bureaucracy, saying he faced red tape while working to strengthen monitoring of development work on the ground.

Only a few days ago, the former bureaucrat hailed the bureaucracy as “great” and said there was no alternative to it.

Now he says he tried to set up offices of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division or IMED at district and division levels even after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina backed his plan to ensure quality development work.

He talked about the issue at a post-budget dialogue organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue on Saturday when the other participants emphasised speeding up the implementation of the development projects by ensuring quality work.

Mannan said the prime minister is so interested in quality work that when he sought her permission to set up the IMED offices in districts and divisions at a meeting seven to eight months ago, Hasina instantly approved the plan to strengthen the division.

“It isn’t possible for an IMED, which was formed to monitor a budget of only a few crores of takas, to evaluate projects under a Tk 6 to 7 trillion budget or Tk 2.5 trillion ADP (Annual Development Plan),” he recalled telling that meeting.

Hasina wrote down her instructions to strengthen the IMED on the summary of that meeting, and Mannan began the work.

“But I faced obstacles. Bureaucracy told me that I cannot do that because there cannot be splits in the government.”    

Mannan had pointed out bureaucracy as an obstacle to institutional reforms two years ago.

But at a media conference last Tuesday, he said he was “still a bureaucrat deep down” and there was “no alternative to the great bureaucracy”.

The participants of Saturday’s dialogue criticised the government for the trend to rushing the implementation of projects by the end of the financial years.

The agencies implementing the projects argue that the work appears to speed up before the end of a fiscal year because the bills are paid and recorded in June, the minister had said. “It seemed logical to me.”

The participants were also critical of a lack of data, especially on poverty. “We can’t say anything about the CPD’s recent finding about 35 percent poverty in Bangladesh because we don’t have updated data. We are working to strengthen the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics,” said Mannan.

He said he was against increasing the budget by taking more foreign loans. “I’m against taking foreign aid because we don’t feel comfortable at the high priority issues they set. Some of these contain things that are not good for us.”