Infrastructure Project Failures in Colombia

9th August 2018
Author: Kasra Daheshpour, Siân Herbert

Due to poor civil engineering practices, natural disasters, corruption, the sabotage of infrastructure associated with Colombia’s armed conflict, and the politicisation of large infrastructure projects, Colombia is spending a significant amount annually on improving and rebuilding relatively new infrastructure. As the country’s population and economy continue to grow, so do its economic loses. This rapid literature review synthesises findings from academic, practitioner, and policy literature published in the past five years that discuss the factors that influence the recurrence of infrastructure project failures in Colombia and the public procurement checks and balances that been adopted to reduce their likelihood. Poor civil engineering is associated with inadequate initial design and design changes, an insufficient initial budget, lack of supervision, unexpected events, a lack of professional experience and competence, inadequate quality of work, poor budget and resource management and a lack of knowledge of construction and planning policy (Forcada, et al., 2017). In some cases, policies of social inclusion have resulted in the employment of local inexperienced contractors and workers. These major defining characteristics lead to a high rate of reconstruction and unnecessary effort in repeating poorly completed or incomplete work resulting in budget overruns. In ageing infrastructure, a preference for new construction over maintenance has resulted in increasingly deteriorated existing infrastructure, further increasing failure rates. Natural disasters are mostly associated with extreme rainfall events and earthquakes and can cause frequent flooding and landslides which impact important transport corridors. Heavy rainfall further complicates the maintenance and operation of surface transport by inhibiting repairs and upgrades (Wettling, et al., 2015). Corruption is a serious hurdle for the government and companies operating or investing in Colombia’s infrastructure. Various factors contribute to corruption including organised crime, drug trafficking, a lack of government transparency, and weak regulations for securing investments and their monitoring. To address this the Government of Columbia (GoC) is trying to improve transparency and access to information and to strengthen the legal framework and government structures (International Monetary Fund, 2018). Infrastructure sabotage mainly perpetrated by guerrilla forces and criminal groups (the “BACRIM”, formerly the paramilitary groups) , during the course of Colombia’s 50+ year armed conflict, has resulted in frequent attacks on oil and electricity infrastructure. The politicisation of large infrastructure projects. An ongoing series of papers by IABD (2018, forthcoming) on megaprojects in Latin American highlight how infrastructure megaprojects tend to be politicised – whereby political criteria and elections often dominate decision-making. Meanwhile, prefeasibility studies, feasibility studies and evaluations are often dominated by political actors and processes, and by the construction companies or the financiers of the projects. Colombia’s gross domestic product (GDP) has tripled over the past decade, however inadequate and insufficient infrastructure is a major threat to its economy, and improving its infrastructure is needed to boost the country’s competitiveness. Although significant investment in infrastructure has been taking place in Colombia, infrastructure project failures are severely constraining the impacts of these investments. The literature suggests that corruption is the major reason for the ineffectiveness of public procurement checks and balances. Efforts to improve public sector organisation by ring-fencing agencies/activities historically prone to corruption his has been led by a number of government anti-corruption initiatives including the establishment of the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI).

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Suggested Citation

Daheshpour, K. & Herbert, S. (2018) Infrastructure project failures in Colombia. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.


9th August 2018


Continent: South America

Country: Colombia