Eight civil works packages under national competitive bidding were procured successfully using Viet Nam's e-procurement system. All the e-procured packages achieved high efficiency with an average of 50 days end-to-end procurement time. However, there were only one or two bids per package. This may be because of the new procurement procedure but may also reflect small contract values (less than $1 million per contract).
All the works contracts under this project were supervised by consulting engineers appointed to ensure that detailed engineering designs were followed, and contractors’ claims were legitimate. However, the supervision of some subprojects was insufficient to ensure timely completion and handover of fully operational, quality works. Of note were (i) a nonfunctioning pressurized piped irrigation system in Cu M’Gar, Dak Lak; and (ii) a poorly constructed irrigation system in Ea Soup, Dak Lak.
During the completion review field visits, it was observed that irrigation facilities are better maintained than low-volume rural roads. This is because budget allocations to irrigation management companies provide for a minimum level of service and people are engaged on a part-time basis to maintain canals and keep gates in operating condition. In the case of low volume rural roads, not only are commune funds more limited than provincial sources, the institutional structure to maintain alignments is also inadequate. As a result, commune people’s committees often engage voluntary groups (youth or women’s associations) to carry out basic maintenance and vegetation control at a scale that requires mechanical intervention. Without a formal organization and institutional arrangement to do the job, the maintenance of rural roads is often left undone or done too late.
With the tremendous pressure on Viet Nam’s provincial administrations to achieve economic development, investments have tended to prioritize the expansion of PRI with designs that are often based on outdated standards and cost norms. Irrigation and road designs thus typically result in lower capacity with structural weaknesses, consequently requiring repair and/or upgrade shortly after commissioning. For example, significant periodic maintenance was required for the subprojects in Buon Tria–Buon Triet communes of Lak district within just 2 years after commissioning. However, due to the limited revenue generation capacity of provincial governments, it is not always possible to meet the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs of the project assets. Given this, it is of great importance that PRI design standards adequately address current risk factors, particularly under expected climate change scenarios and the changing land-use patterns.
Agricultural support provided to dehkan farms was limited to the duration of the project. No mechanisms were put in place to ensure sustainability of benefits beyond the project’s life. The activities of demonstrations farms were very helpful to dehkan farms in increasing productivity, but these were stopped after project completion. Further, most of these demonstration farms were distributed to individual and family dehkan farms after completion of the project. Agricultural extension services are in the nature of merit goods, with positive externalities to the society. Hence mechanisms should have been established for the provision of these services on an ongoing basis to ensure sustainability of productivity gains.
Transferring management of tertiary irrigation and drainage systems to beneficiaries as a means for participatory water management was appropriate and in line with IWRM principles. However, the phasing of cost recovery and measures needed for WUAs to become sustainable should have been made clear at the outset. Measures for achieving full cost recovery should have been identified early in the implementation process.
While it was established as part of project management, M&E was discontinued after the PMO closed. Hence, project specific data cannot be provided for evaluating long-term outcomes, impact, and poverty reduction.
Frequent damage to irrigation facilities caused by flooding and landslides is a big threat to the sustainability of infrastructure improvements. Considering the poor watershed management in the areas surrounding subprojects and incompatible land uses (e.g., hilly land corn farming above the irrigated rice fields), the construction of irrigation infrastructure needs to improve. Preventive and protective measures need to be taken to guard against recurring intense rainfalls and extreme weather events. Such measures could take account of environmental risks and ecological accidents and apply watershed management approaches. This would build long-term climate resilience, supporting the government’s Agriculture Development Strategy to 2025 and Vision 2030.
Although it seems self-evident, this fundamental lesson is often overlooked and needs to be reiterated. Community involvement in planning and responsibility for O&M is a practical and cost-effective way of managing such small-scale systems. The government-enabled community ownership and capacity building approach employed by the project will be useful in other efforts to scale up agricultural development, for example in improving rural health, water supply and sanitation, and education. The project demonstrated that community mobilization combined with sustained agricultural extension services can deliver both higher rice yields and expanded irrigation areas through communities’ substantial and long-term commitment.
Sustainable O&M that guarantees water provision is an incentive for farmers to remain members of WUAs. Farmers tend to withdraw from WUAs if their fields do not receive adequate water flows. Without water delivery to their fields, there was no incentive for farmers to work on land conversion and therefore some refused to invest their resources in converting undeveloped land to paddy fields, which would have increased the irrigated area under the project. Farmers’ willingness to pay for irrigation services is affected if they cannot get adequate water flows to their fields, and if irrigation facilities damaged by extreme weather events are not expeditiously repaired by the government. The government’s response capacity for post-completion maintenance needs to improve by allocating adequate funds systematically.
The sustainability of rural infrastructure interventions, mainly rural roads and irrigation schemes relies heavily on securing funds for their proper O&M. Existing reliance on ad hoc government transfers to cover O&M expenses should evolve into user-paid fees to guarantee the proper functioning of the infrastructure during its expected lifetime.
Sector projects of a multisectoral nature face the risk of having implementation problems and achieving lower than expected development outcomes. Additional work at project design needs to identify and establish clear rules about the types of investments that are eligible for financing, ensuring that these contribute to the project’s stated outcomes. At implementation, a close communication of the rules for investment is critical to avoid delays stemming from extensive revisions to proposed investment plans.
For greater effectiveness of the monitoring and evaluation framework of the project, the overall logic and results chains as well as indicators need to be firmly established and tested before project effectiveness. Three main aspects can be improved: (a) project attribution needs to be addressed in the methodologies used for collecting indicator data, (b) measuring the degree of infrastructure use by beneficiaries provides more accurate information of the project’s results than focusing on physical progress in construction, and (c) the development results of capacity building activities are better assessed through measurement of the degree of behavior change of beneficiaries.
The number of review missions, rigor of the review, efficient and effective follow up, and frequency of changes in project officers need to be related to the capacity of the executing agency. Reporting systems need to identify implementation challenges before they become problems, and agreed upon solutions need to be vigorously followed up.
This creates a tendency to ignore safeguard problems as the investment is committed, and design quality may be undermined.
When subprojects have to be designed during implementation, eligibility, selection, prioritization criteria, and subproject screening need to be carried out during PPTA to clarify the scope of the project, eliminate any problematic subprojects, and minimize transaction costs.
DMFs need rigorous critical analysis during PPTA and RRP processing to ensure causality in the links. Indicators and targets must be set clearly and realistically, and provide an effective basis for implementation monitoring. Identified risks to achievement of the impact and outcome should be addressed with realistic mitigating measures and, if needed, changes in project design.
ADB needs to ensure that the PPTA consultants are properly interacting with the executing agency throughout the preparation process to attain high confidence in the investment resources achieving the intended impacts and the project being implemented in accordance with ADB requirements.
This is so that the project appraisal and approval documents (especially PAM and DMF) are clear, selective, logical, and focused in terms of composition and geographic spread. They also must be implementable in the context of the capacity of the executing agency and implementing agencies.