by Huma Gupta
Teacher and poet Muhammad Nabi recites a Pashto poem sitting before the new hostel for the Jalalabad Accounting Institute. Though accounting and monitoring do not necessarily go hand in hand with poetry, on this particular day, they do.
Muhammad Nabi and Muhammad Aqeem, two local monitors and teachers, have been monitoring the construction of the Accounting Institute and its hostel in Jalalabad since March 2011. Despite the finesse with which Nabi recites poetry, Nabi and Aqeem have been strong advocates for increasing the quality of this institute and making sure that the $560,000 for the institute and $485,000 for the hostel are efficiently and honestly spent. Their consistent monitoring has ensured that this institute and hostel can serve Jalalabad for years to come. Though this project is funded by the Ministry of Education and facilitated by the Nangarhar Department of Education, the implementer Sahar Salman Construction Company made many mistakes during the construction. The Ministry of Education did not keep its end of the bargain either. But, Nabi and Aqeem were successfully able to facilitate between the government and the company and the hostel and institute will open its doors to the public in the upcoming months.
Local monitors can fundamentally improve the quality of projects in their own communities and hold both government agencies and contractors accountable.
The first challenge Nabi and Aqeem faced during the construction of the hostel was the quality of the bricks used. The Sahar Salman company had used second grade bricks, when first grade bricks were specified and required for the construction. When the local monitors complained and discussed the issue with the company, the company agreed to replace the second grade bricks with first grade bricks.
The second challenge they faced was the lack of attention to details such as using dusty steel bars in the reinforced concrete and dusty gravel. Civil engineers know that dust is problematic to construction materials, because in the case of steel bars, the dust interferes with proper bonding of the steel with the concrete. This results in an overall weakness of the reinforced concrete. It is impressive that local monitors pay such close attention to the construction materials used, and that the construction company cleaned the steel bars and gravel on their request.
After the dusty steel bars, another technical problem was that the company had used crooked concrete pillars. Again, after the local monitors noticed this problem, they reported it to the company and made sure that these crooked pillars would be discarded and new ones forged for the building. At each step of the construction, the local monitors were able to push for improvements and fill the monitoring gap that should be filled by donors, government agencies and the construction implementers themselves.
One issue that local monitors could not change however, was the gross delay in project implementation. The construction of the hostel began in December 2010 and was supposed to be completed by December 2011. In June 2012, the construction was still ongoing. Since this issue could not be solved at the local level between the local monitors and Construction Company, it was presented to the Nangarhar Department of Economy representatives during a Provincial Monitoring Board (PMB) meeting. At first, the delay was perceived to be the fault of the construction company. However, after the discussion, it was revealed that the Ministry of Economy had not in fact, made the contract payments on time. Due to a lack of funds, the company had to stop construction until payments were made. The PMB meeting was successful in placing additional pressure on getting the payment so that construction could continue. Students however, would have to wait another six months to enter the institute.
The case of this institute demonstrates that dedicated members of the community can drastically improve the quality of projects with regular monitoring. Although, there will always be many factors that are out of the local monitors’ hands such as contract payments, their monitoring reports result in visible and concrete changes.