Op-ed: Hon Amaechi, Let Project Managers Report Progress on Rail Projects
By Jude Aghai
Nigeria is doing a lot in the railway sector. The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi is a very passionate political leader overseeing the sector. His passion for success in that sector is outstanding and his achievements are quite huge. His weakness however is the muddled up nature of project implementation reporting.
Anytime you listen to the minister narrating progress report, you cannot but get more confused than educated. When he speaks, he appears more political. That is not bad. But he has failed to allow professionals to issue for the public progress reports on major projects. Again, because the Minister is only a politician who wants to deliver on projects, he at times mixed up critical projects details.
I agree there are project consultants but their reports are never used to brief the public. The situation is so bad that you get so many contradictory reports on state of project implementation. For example, more than five differing reports have emerged on the Lagos-Ibadan SGR projects. The reports especially on stage of implementation are unclear. The same apply to other rail projects like the Ibadan -Kano Line, the Coastal railway line,the Port Harcourt -Maiduguri line and many others.
Don’t get me wrong- the minister is doing very well. He is arguably one of the best ministers within the cabinet. Yet, he should allow professionals to handle progress update after issuing his political review. This is in his best interest. Nigerians will be able to appraise progress without current muddling up of the space. The Minister should allow a designated official of the Chinese firm to issue update on the projects. This is the model adopted in Kenya. It helps to ensure right messaging and clears misinterpretation.
Railway project implementation is too important to be reduced to mere political reporting. There is a standard format for project reporting. I know there are technical reports. The head of the technical team should be involved in the media briefing. More critically, the Nigerian Railway Corporation should play more frontal roles. The technical strength of the NRC should never be relegated especially at a time the nation is undergoing such massive railway expansion and modernisation.
There is urgent need for Minister Rotimi Amaechi to embrace standard format of project reporting to the public As noted in many classical books, “depending on the size and complexity of your project, the project management report may be required weekly or monthly. It is provided to all project stakeholders to help keep them up to date on the progress of the project and any pressing challenges the project may be facing.
“The majority of project management reports are single pagers, but may have appendices or links to more information for anyone who wishes to delve into the details. However, in some circumstances, it can be much more in-depth. For example, there is a government template that is ten pages in length.”
What is included in a project management report?
Project management reports should include the following key characteristics namely the project name;the project number (if you have one);name of the project manager;project sponsor;start date of the project;expected end date;customer name and information; and the date the report is released.
Other key metrics of project success include the following : schedule progress against plan-is the project ahead of or behind schedule?; current cost versus budget-are you under budget or over?; current scope compared to plan-has the scope changed since the project began? ; planned versus actual resourcing-are any resources missing or overallocated?
Other issues include: an overview of risks namely – are there any high risks that need to be managed? ; current quality findings- has quality testing been done? Were there any issues?
There are top level project managers involved in the various railway projects . They know the standard reporting procedures. Reports indicate that such projects reports are submitted regularly. The Minister has a duty to ensure accurate release of information on the stages of project implementation. Hence at every media briefing, he should have the project manager with him.
As at today, most Nigerians can hardly speak with certainty the exact implementation stages of most railway projects. Against the background of covid-19 , programmes may have changed. But the reality of the situation should be clearly communicated. As at now, that is not the situation. This needs to change going forward.
The Minister should realise that information sharing with the public is always the saving grace of political office holders. Hoarding vital communication with bureaucracy is always the undoing especially in case of communication crisis. For the future of the present office holders and overriding need for the public to know, time is now to allow professionals to brief the public on progress of work on the many mega rail projects.
Additionally, to help accountability and transparency organisations, information sharing is critical. It is a sure precondition for good governance.
*Jude Aghai, analyst at RAILWAY ACCOUNTABILITY HUB, writes from Wuse, Abuja, Nigeria. His firstname.lastname@example.org