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Rethink public projects to stem costly delays

By Nashon Okowa | October 10th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

The construction industry has made significant contribution to the economy of many developing countries. However, many scholars agree that the potential of the industry still remains untapped. Still, time and cost overruns on projects have been main contributors to poor performance of this industry.

The inability to complete projects on time and within budget continues to be a chronic problem worldwide and is worsening. Overruns on construction projects are a universal phenomenon; even so, it is more severe in developing countries like Kenya.

That it is now a norm to have time and cost overruns on our public sector projects should not surprise many of us. We see it, live it and experience it daily across the country. In fact, the Africa construction trend report (2017) by Deloitte, detailed it with impeccable precision. The report indicated that 87 per cent of Kenya’s public sector projects experience time delays while 48 per cent suffer cost overruns. Simply put; it is now almost a guarantee that any public project launched will delay and half a bet that it will be above budget. This is an obvious incubator nest for corruption to thrive – with impunity, of course. 

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But have we fully comprehended the damage these overruns have had on our economic growth? From our casual demeanor, I bet not. In Kenya, major road projects have a history of problems; time and cost overruns being at the fore. Yet, the Vision 2030 that aims to transform the country to a middle income economy will depend heavily on quality of the road infrastructure through reduction of transport costs and improvement of accessibility. The centrality of the road infrastructure in the Vision 2030 and the heavy annual budgetary allocations to the sector underscore the need to investigate the drivers that contribute to time and cost overruns. Most of these are foreseeable and avoidable with the right project management framework.

A number of scholars have written on the advantages of devolution, the challenges facing it, its impact and many more. We all agree, or I bet majority of us, that devolution has greatly contributed to development projects implementation and brought services closer to the people by understanding the basic needs of various communities. However, there are still a myriad challenges facing devolution, and at the threshold is projects failure due to time and cost overruns. Projects overruns are a common and regular phenomenon of county projects in the health sector, roads, agriculture and many more. These have undoubtedly had an immeasurable cost to the society.  What continues to baffle me is how we seem to have thrown in the towel and resigned to providence. We have given in to fate and irrationality. Yet, if there is a lesson this 21st century has taught us so far, then it is that it is impossible to demand less. We cannot normalise the abnormal, the wanton delays and cost overruns on public projects must cease to have a better country.

There are a number of reasons why our public projects have overruns. However, professional management of projects remains the key waterloo to projects success. The carelessness in public sector projects management is palpable. It is time to rethink how we manage public sector projects to fast-track growth. From national to county to constituency projects, we must centralise professional management of projects with qualified construction managers at the helm of these projects. The need to professionally manage projects globally is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.

- The writer is chair of Association of Construction Managers of Kenya. [email protected]

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