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More effective project implementation may help deal with the development effects of the Ebola outbreak

January 29, 2015 By Sheriff Mahmud Ismail

At the World Bank Round Table on Ebola in October 2014, President Koroma delivered a moving appeal to the international donor community for support against the outbreak.

This is not a disease we brought upon ourselves. In Sierra Leone we were implementing policies that were making our country one of the fastest growing economies in the world when Ebola struck. Ebola is now causing great disruptions to agricultural, mining, manufacturing, construction, tourism and transportation; and posing a significant threat to human development, state security, and poverty reduction. Government revenues are drying up; the livelihood of our people compromised”.

The latest World Bank report on the economic impact of the outbreak, released on 20th January, 2015, confirms this sad reality. The report finds that “the Ebola epidemic will continue to cripple the economies of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone even as transmission rates in the three countries show significant signs of slowing”. It also notes that “full-year 2014 growth in Sierra Leone fell by more than half to 4.0 percent from 11.3 percent expected before the crisis” and that “investor aversion further diminishes 2015 growth estimates to 0.2 percent Sierra Leone – down from pre-Ebola estimates of 6.8 percent. These projections, the report asserts, “imply forgone income in 2015 of about US$900 million for Sierra Leone”.

As the country beats back the epidemic and puts together its recovery strategy, development analysts say it may be helpful to strengthen the implementation of development projects. For instance, the World Bank’s three-year portfolio before the outbreak stood at about USD400 million – funding pro-poor projects in agriculture, health, energy, information technology and social safety nets programs. The Bank also funds good governance projects from decentralization to public finance management. The International Finance Corporation, the private sector wing of the World Bank Group, is also involved in programs gearing towards stimulating economic growth in the private sector. All these projects and programs are designed to enhance livelihoods, promote economic growth and national development. Since the bola outbreak in May 2014, the Bank has committed a total of USD 162 million.

It therefore goes without saying that, more effective management and implementation of such development projects would considerably help to mitigate the economic effects of the Ebola outbreak and stimulate recovery program.

In June 2014, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) and the World Bank (WB) conducted a performance review of the current WB-funded projects in Sierra Leone. The exercise provided an opportunity for dialogue between line ministries, Project Implementing Units (PIUs) and the World Bank. It resulted in identifying challenges affecting the smooth implementation of projects and measures to overcome them.

During that review, it came out that one of the critical factors affecting implementation is weak ownership of the projects by the respective line ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Also important is insufficient coordination between the PIUs and respective line MDAs, MoFED and the wider public. As a remedy, the Ministry of Finance, with support from the World Bank, agreed to undertake a mapping of all PIUs implementing WB-financed projects (including joint PIUs, which also implement projects financed by other donors).

The mapping will focus on the following issues:

* Structure and position of each PIU whether stand-alone, semi-integrated or joint;

* Organizational structure of each PIU;

* Reporting lines and relations with the line MDAs;

* Staffing levels (including vacancies);

* Key staff turnover (for the last 3 years);

* Workloads and distribution of tasks.

The mapping will be followed by joint monitoring to be undertaken by the Bank’s Operations Officer and the Deputy Financial Secretary in charge of Multilaterals at MoFED. The two officials will provide quarterly reports on the status of implementation of the CPPR Actions.

Another key challenge identified was project design. It is essential that projects were designed in ways that ensured smooth and timely implementation. This will help achieve the desired development objective and impacts. There have been concerns that many project implementation arrangements do not take into account the existing capacities and structures within the implementing agencies.

Project management teams say that such arrangements limit their ability to perform satisfactorily. The problem is, in many instances, PIUs were created outside the respective line MDAs without clear lines of reporting and responsibility. To address this issue, senior officials from MoFED and concerned line MDAs should be involved at project preparation stage to ensure that appropriate implementation arrangements be agreed at the appropriate level.

Apart from the above, adherence to procurement procedures and processes continue to serve as bottleneck to effective project implementation. Several projects experienced procurement delays, due to a variety of factors, including difficulties with developing TORs, technical specifications, etc. The major problem that has been highlighted is qualifications of persons nominated to bid evaluation committees. Most PIUs complained of the lack of experience and technical expertise among the evaluation committee members. Such nominations were not compliant with the procurement law. As a solution, the World Bank and the MoFed were to organize an ‘issues-based’ procurement workshop to address the various procurement challenges. Secondly, reminders would be sent to all MDAs and PIUs on the importance of following guidelines for appointing bid evaluation committees for Bank—financed contracts. The reminder would also include sanctions for noncompliance.

A fourth challenge relates to implementation. Several PIUs complained that the Bank task teams took too long time to respond to requests from the implementing agencies. In some cases of change of Task Team Leaders, there were long delays in providing response to requests, resulting in slow procurement and disbursements problems. Therefore, going forward, PIUs should inform MoFED and WB Office on delays of more than two weeks and the WB office to follow up with task teams. In cases of delays from the PIUs, the MoFED will follow up and provide updates to the Bank task teams. Ineffective contract management and poor coordination in the relationship with other UN agencies were also identified as challenges.

Implementation of all those recommendations was stalled because of the outbreak. Now that the country appears to be emerging from the woods, it should be very helpful for both government and its development partners to put effective project implementation in high motion.

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