A for Accountability...
A for Accountability...

A for Accountability...

I had once visited Anand Bhawan in Allahabad, which is like a museum today. The Annexe Building, which houses the Nehru Family memorabilia, was closed for renovations, but the notice did not say anything about when it was to reopen. This in India is not an isolated example, and every now and then, we do encounter such flagrant lack of public accountability, and a propensity to avoid making promises, so much so that we as citizens of the country have by now accepted this state of affairs, and consider this quite normal to announce the start date of a project, and be silent about the promised end date! "Until further notice" is an obnoxious expression, which not only displays our apathy but also our lack of respect for our own roles as project leaders! I am labouring this point because, the starting point of project management is accountability - accountability to complete the project in time, within cost budgets, and to ultimately deliver the complete project as promised, to its stakeholders.

In continuity of our discussion in the last issue, when we talked about project management in nation building, we collected some data from the website of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. According to this body (which is tasked with tracking large projects in the central sector) 227 projects above Rs 150 crore in value, are delayed by a (simple, not weighted!) average of 31 months each. The interest cost of this delay alone, is a staggering Rs 1 lakh crore already, not to talk about the opportunity cost of such delayed projects - this could be even larger. If we were to add the impact of projects delayed in State and private sectors, the loss will easily top 5 lakh crore of Rupees, and one can well imagine how much value we can add to the GDP of our nation if we were to just do our projects right.

And, what are the reasons for the delay of these government projects? According to this website, the reasons are:

  • Delay in regulatory approvals
  • Delay in land acquisitions
  • Financing issues and non-availability of funds
  • Contractual disputes
  • Law and order problems
  • Delay in decision making, etc.
  • Do you see "lack of accountability (and commensurate authority) "as a reason for delay? Funnily, you don't! Goes to show that we are either ignorant of the real root cause of project delays, or we know, but we do not want to talk about it. The real reason why all the above-cited "apparent" reasons were allowed to cause delays in the projects, is the total absence of ownership and accountability in these projects. We need to reflect on why, as a nation, we have developed this aversion to accountability. It was not always so; the epitome of an accountable person, in our mind, will always be someone like Lal Bahadur Shastri, who resigned as Railway Minister taking moral responsibility of a major accident. But sadly, gone are those days. Could it be, that today we believe more in witch-hunting and shooting the messenger, to find the easy way out of failures, without bothering to determine the real reasons for such failures, and that, this has resulted in everyone trying to pass the buck around and successfully avoid being accountable.

    During the recent event, an eminent colleague on the dais pointed out that, when it comes to fixing responsibility at lower levels, we immediately suspend or transfer or even sack people, while we start talking about enquiries and process improvements when the muck hits the higher echelons. Nothing can be more tellingly closer to the reality. We must bring back the culture of ownership and accountability, and for this to happen, we must be objective in determining the "real" root causes of delays, and take corrective actions. This can only happen over time, and with collective efforts of the project management fraternity across government and private sectors alike.

    Bottom line is, there has to be a project owner for every project, and s/he has to be fully accountable for delivering the project - the buck must stop with her/him. This owner has to be empowered to do her job well, principally by two means; firstly, by giving her the appropriate authority of decision making, and secondly, by giving her the knowledge to do her job well. Hope we contribute to this, in some small measure, through this column.

    - Sumit Banerjee

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