FE: How have you been engaged with the DEE project? What is the role you are now playing with the country's first big infrastructure project under the PPP?
Shamsul Hoque (SH): My engagement with the DEE project started after the government had been looking for an expert from BUET to work for the BBA (Bangladesh Bridges Authority) at the initial stage. On recommendation from BUET professor Alamgir Mujibur Rahman who was among the panel of experts for the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project, I engaged with the project and reviewed the alignments first as recommended by a design consultant. I was later among the members of expert committee along with Jamilur Reza Chowdhury and M Rahmatullah of UN ESCAP.
However, my engagement with the project later was on the basis of demand due to uncertainty looming over its existence. The project had gone through various challenges, even a recommendation was there to withdraw the project.
FE: Finally the first 11km part of the DEE opens to traffic. How do you feel now?
SH: It is indeed a piece of good news in view of the challenges. The DEE is finally able to give people a respite to some extent from traffic jams. But its real benefit would not be enjoyed until the entire corridor is ready. The main objective of the expressway is to bypass the highway traffic which is now absent. The partial opening will certainly address local traffic and yield benefit, though on a small scale. But I am concerned about some lacks of treatment at the entry and exit levels, for example, the lack of digital toll collection system and scope for pedestrian movement in on-off ramp areas.
FE: Since you have been engaged in addressing many challenges of the DEE project in favour of the government and private investor, please, let our readers know how it was done.
SH: The DEE journey began as the first PPP project in line with the concept of PPP was ready. Besides, separating railways from the communication ministry and appointing a new minister for the road transport and bridges ministry changed the entire scenario. Though it was the second most priority project of the government after the Padma Bridge, it lost the attention within the government. For that reason, it could not get priority like other fast track projects which were adopted later overlapping the same DEE corridor. Those affected its implementation. Many priority projects like metro rail, Moghbazar-Mouchak flyovers, etc., came afterward on the same alignment and those were implemented, though the DEE came first. Due to giving priority to MRT or Moghbazar flyover, its design with traffic model has been changed. Besides, giving priority to the riders of Old Dhaka city also changed the scenario, though its need was felt by the Prime Minister at the beginning as her philosophy was development keeping no one behind.
The DEE's problem started as its alignment was guided by investors, not by any study. Also the ITD was a contractor, not the investor. Due to lack of a proper feasibility study, the project could not be bankable for funding. So the project faced problems every now and then to go forward and the concessionaire contracts were revised.
Though I was not officially engaged with DEE project at one stage, I was requested to resolve those sometimes in favour of the investor and sometimes for the government.
I had to present the project before the honorable Prime Minister five times for resolving the problems due to deviation from the original design.
I also had to support the Ital-Thai to change the design which was done at least 14 times following guidelines from the highups and the investor.
FE: Were not all these incidents frustrating for continuing a PPP project? As the project has still challenges as far as completion of the remaining part of the alignment is concerned, what suggestion do you have for the government?
SH: Creating a green field is the prerequisite for any PPP project. As I said before, the DEE project was taken hurriedly when the PPP concept was not clear to the people. PPP has huge potential in the country due to population and ridership. So waste of time to take a decision or solve a problem portrays a negative image to the investors. So the government has to support projects to help create the green field first. Besides integration and cooperation by different government agencies are also must. PPP means a partnership - a tie like wedding. So this tie must be unique and to mutual benefit of all Various countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand have already completed innumerable PPP projects but we could not yet implement such big ones.
FE: What are the new benefits you think it will bring after launch of the first expressway under PPP?
SH: The most excellent part of the DEE is the operation and management. The PPP philosophy is to build-maintain-sustain a piece of infrastructure not like the government or development funded ones. These roads are being built following the build-forget-rebuild model as the authorities concerned do not pay any heed to the maintenance. Making the expressway functional is important for investors so that they will do their best for smooth operation, management and maintenance. The private investors continue investment for smooth operation of the expressway during the concessional period. The DEE is no exception. It has to ensure speedy crossing of the vehicles as well as speedy movement addressing all kinds of obstruction immediately after any incident. The ITD will have to invest almost half the investment for the O and M during its nearly 25 years of tenure to enjoy the tolls.
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