Project Management Pride Not Whole Story – Ethiopian Business Review

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The timely completion and quality of delivered projects have been a source of pride for the ruling Prosperity Party members. One may not fall far from the truth for assuming that there are not many public appearances of the Prime Minister where he does not mention Entoto Park, Meskel Square, Friendship Park, the National Palace, and other such projects undertaken under his direct watch and without public participation. Of course, these projects have been completed in a timely manner with quality that has contented citizens who at the same time also raise questions of cost to value. However, that does not mean that this tradition has been reciprocated by other public officials and institutions that were given the task of executing projects. Addis Ababa is laden with developments stalled mid-construction and there is still a tradition of starting projects at the beginning of the rainy season knowing full-well the rains will halt work. Rampant corruption and inflation, as well as a struggling economy, pose further challenges to the completion of projects, writes EBR’s Eden Teshome.

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“Nothing we said we would do is left undone.” The pride of Abiy Ahmed (PhD), Prime Minister, on his administration’s performance in managing public projects was on full display during his appearance at Parliament on June 14, 2022.

The Premier’s sense of pride was attributed to the quality and timely completion of some public projects, most notably at Entoto Park, Meskel Square, Friendship Square, the National Palace, as well as the launching of other projects in Wonchi, Koysha, and Gorgora—all which have been on his tongue during almost all of his public appearances.

Abiy’s pride reached these highs owing to the history of public projects in Ethiopia. However, the planning, management, and delivery of these elements of societal, and to a lesser degree economic, value have been loaded with issues. It’s a rare instance when a project is finished on schedule, under budget, and to the stakeholders’ desired standards of quality. What is typical of the brief history of public projects in Ethiopia is well evidenced in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), currently under its 11th year of construction and well over schedule and prone to numerous design changes altering the capacity of the hydroelectric dam.

Even though there are some areas that the PM’s administration could use to argue for the progress in managing and delivering projects, not all areas are sources of pride.

In 2016, Ethiopian authorities and Chinese State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) signed a contract to construct the national stadium, dubbed Adey Abeba. However, problems arose during the stadium’s construction mostly due to unauthorized settlements established on the sizable plot of land as well as a mosque in the vicinity. Over the past 20 years, hundreds of people have lived in temporary dwellings on the nearly 67 hectares of land around the Hayahulet area. Now, only a few of the residences on the southern edge remain after the relocation of 599 inhabitants with no specifics regarding how and where they were relocated to.

The completion of the first phase with an outlay of ETB2.4 billion was announced in 2020 but the stadium’s skeleton has since sat idle as development of the second phase—anticipated to cost even more than the first—being eagerly awaited but to no visible movement. Launched more than seven years ago, the construction of stadium was meant to be completed in two years’ time after an initial budget of USD100 million for a stadium of 60,000 seats and parking for 10,000 cars. The need for Ethiopia to have an international-standard stadium has been an ache in recent years with none of the currently operating stadiums fulfilling standards to host international matches. National football teams are thus forced to undergo ‘home’ games away in other countries.

The PM’s pride is also less known among the young Bajaj drivers in Woreda six of Akaki Kality District who have been on the verge of direct confrontation with a contractor who came to their neighborhood to commence the construction of a by-pass road last month. The cobled-stone street passing by the neighborhood between Nega Bonger Hotel and Fafa Food Factory was meant to be upgraded into an asphalt road about two years ago as part of a plan to connect it to another asphalt road coming from Mebrat Hail Condominium in Nifas Silk Lafto District.

A contractor, to which the project was awarded to, came about a year-and-a-half ago turned the road upside down and then left without completing the project, according to residents in the area who claim that the contractor was not in full agreement with the city’s administration. Looking to restart the project, another contractor was assigned and started digging during the start of the rainy season—not an ideal time to start a road project in Ethiopia. That’s when Bajaj drivers and other residents came out in masses to force the halting of the project, for a second time.

“They start digging at the beginning of the rains and it is obvious that they will not continuously work during the rainy season,” Bereket Hailemariam, a Bajaj Driver told EBR. “They will leave it messed up and come back probably in October, during which time we have no way to drive our Bajajs and make a living.”

Bereket’s complaint is well-founded as that was exactly what happened more than a year ago during which time Bajaj drivers had to halt their services—severely hurting their income for months.

The tradition of starting projects at the beginning of the main rainy season does not feature in the administration’s statements of bravado. A junior civil engineer at a local construction company, who wants to remain anonymous, says this is a well-known technique in their sector. “You start the projects at the beginning of the rainy season, have the funds released, then blame the rains for the delaying of projects and invest the funds elsewhere,” he told EBR.

The start of neighborhood roads at inopportune times is not the only downside which Abiy’s statement of pride forgot to mention. One of the most important routes for the nation’s import and export trade has also been halted for more than two years. In February 2017, work on building two wide interchange-type roads began around the capital city—from Tulu Dimtu and Bulbula Kilinto to Kaliti Square—to be completed three years later. Construction is halted as of now. The cost of the project was said to be covered by the Addis Ababa City Administration and a loan from the Exim Bank of China. The 20.6 kilometers of road—40 to 60 meters wide—were expected to cost over ETB4.7 billion. The roads are of massive economic significance and would also serve the Kilinto Industrial Park, medium-sized businesses, and local residents.

“We will complete the Akaki-Kilinto road construction by the coming year whether Exim Bank supports us or not,” Abiy told Parliament during his appearance on June 14, 2022. Chinese banks have not been as forthcoming in executing loans as Ethiopia’s capacity to handle and repay is being called into question.

But that was not the first promise from a public official. “Road projects, particularly those in the import and export trade corridors and in areas of high economic importance, will be monitored and budgetary support will be provided to finalize them sooner than later,” Adanech Abiebie, Addis Ababa City Administration Mayor, said while visiting the projects in October 2020. Two years on, the projects are still stuck.

Of course, the Addis Ababa City Roads Authority (AACRA) has recently inaugurated twelve projects, including nine new roads costing more than ETB1.9 billion. The projects, which included nine asphalt roads, two parking spaces, as well as sidewalks, were officially opened by Adanech and her deputy, Jantirar Abay. Eight out of the total projects, including the parking lots, were completed by AACRA’s construction department with the remaining five constructed by contracted private companies.

The poor performance of projects in developing countries like Ethiopia is generally attributed to a number of factors, including government policies, insufficient funding, donor withdrawal, a lack of foreign exchange, inappropriate contract terms, political priorities, poverty, socio-cultural conditions, corruption, low institutional and human capacity, and the occurrence of unanticipated events like war and drought.

“The success or failure of a project is mostly the responsibility of the project manager,” says Tesfaye Solomon, a private Project Consultant. “For projects to be successfully completed, participation from key stakeholders such as those who will be relocated or otherwise impacted is crucial. The quality of construction materials must also be examined. In Ethiopia, theft and corruption are major issues which prevent projects from succeeding. People steal and flee or quit, or even bribe judges and other law enforcement officials. No one is accountable.”

Public projects have been the major driver of the Ethiopian economy for more than a decade now. According to a 2021 study by Solomon Tilahun, the real per capita GDP is found to be positively and significantly impacted by the level of public investment. The study also found that there is a positive relationship between public and private investment which shows that the two are moving in tandem. Foreign aid also has a positive impact on the level of public investment; more aid usually means more investment. According to the same study, the flow of public investments is concentrated more in urban settings compared to that of their rural counterparts, creating an imbalance in the standard of living, among other effects.

The majority of public infrastructure works in Ethiopia are foreign-financed. But with ever rising debt-distress conditions facing the economy, foreign creditors are less and less eager to offer loans and are even withholding previously agreed funds. Adey Abeba Stadium and the roads linking to Tulu Dimtu have fallen victim to such restrictions. What is puzzling however, is the construction and completion of projects—the pride of the ruling administration—which are of less significant economic value than the stalled developments found around Addis Ababa and even Ethiopia. One questions the strategic decisions that led to this condition, but the political discourse seems to take precedence over economic matters. EBR


10th Year •July 2022 • No. 109

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