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Sunday, January 20, 2013
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News Analysis

So close yet so far

The dream came so near to reality and yet it again may become elusive. Yes, we are talking about the Padma bridge.

The latest World Bank panel's report on how the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) dealt with the investigation in the alleged corruption in the project clearly shows we either do not want to see the dream come true or that we really do not care about the economic importance of this vital bridge connecting the southwest with the rest of the country.

And as it looks today, only one man, former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain, stands between us having the bridge and the nation being deprived of it.

We repeat the importance of the bridge to joggle up public memory as to how vital the bridge is to Bangladesh economy and future development.

In a nutshell, from the first day of its operation, 21,300 vehicles are supposed to use the bridge every day and the number was expected to reach 41,600 by 2025. It is expected to boost the nation's GDP growth by 1.2 percentage points and regional GDP by 3.5 percentage points.

The bridge would create 7,43,000 new jobs too.

These figures are important for various reasons. First, we are striving to become a middle-income country by 2021 and such growth propulsions would have helped us reach the target which now looks not achievable.

Secondly, the south-western region that the bridge would have served suffers from inequality in terms of growth. Poverty is high there and opportunities low. The 3.5 percentage point additional growth would have yanked that region up the development slope.

It has an Economic Internal Rate of Return of 21 percent, well in excess of economic opportunity cost of capital of 12 percent.

The bridge would save vehicle operation costs and travel time costs.

It would in fact be the last remaining major bridge necessary to provide comprehensive connectivity between all the major regions of the country.

Jica in its assessment of the bridge said: “The provision of a bridge across the Padma river is also important for intermodal connection as it will immediately provide better road access to Mongla Port. The bridge will also provide the potential for a rail link to the port if a road-cum-rail bridge option is found feasible. From the sub-regional perspective, it can provide a second access for transit of goods between the South Asian Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) countries.”

Now, have we shown justice and attached sufficient importance to such a vital project? The track record says “No”.

As the tendering process started for the project, a group of very influential people, the former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain included, allegedly started a scheme to make money. They had allegedly proposed a Canadian company, SNC-Lavalin, that it would get a contract provided it paid them money.

The World Bank, the lead financier of the bridge, first broke the news. In Canada, it caused a huge uproar. Two Lavalin officials were arrested and put on trial for the Padma graft. Their hearing would start in April.

But in Bangladesh, the government's response was always a denial. First, it said since there was no contract signed, there cannot be any graft. Then it said “conspiracy for corruption” is not a crime in Bangladesh.

As the relationship with the World Bank soured beyond limits, and the funding of the bank became uncertain, the government started touting ideas that there are so many funders ready to invest. There were Malaysian funders, Chinese funders and so on. Even if these funds would ever materialise, it would come at a very high interest rate.

Then there were talks that we would do it with internal resources. Even an account was opened where various groups started depositing crumbs of money. As if a $2.8 billion project could be done with donations of takas and anas from this or that group including from school children.

In fact all these were just idiosyncrasies that experts pointed out were eye-wateringly infantile approaches to a serious matter. None of them was achievable.

As negotiations with the World Bank was almost falling apart, the government agreed to investigate the corruption allegations. The ACC was engaged.

Unfortunately, the ACC sat on the matter for one year and did not find enough proof to scale the issue from enquiry to investigation level.

And when it did after much insistence of the World Bank, it did a pathetic job. As the World Bank panel's latest letter reveals, the ACC had enough evidence that former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain had meetings with Lavalin officials and that he was allegedly to get a 4 percent cut of the deal. Yet, the ACC left him out when it filed a case. Why? Because the ACC felt that implicating Abul would release a lot of political hot air. So the decision to leave Abul out was a political consideration.

It was evident that the ACC was not acting independently as it was supposed to. The question comes why the ACC was trying to save this one man? And why the prime minister was just watching the show while making the Padma bridge dream become ever so distant? Why does she not intervene? What message should we get from her inaction?

In spite of everything, Padma bridge is still in the realm of possibility, and realising that dream would brighten the face of the nation. The ruling party which has an election coming just next year would also do itself a lot of good by being serious about the investigation.

Let's not forget that the bridge is the World Bank's largest ever infrastructure project and there is no instance that the bank had revived a project once it had cancelled it as has been in this case. This shows the World Bank has walked a long distance to make it happen.

Similarly, the government has also walked a long distance, from outright refusal to file a corruption case. So the distance between the World Bank and the government is literally an inch or an individual, Syed Abul Hossain.

It would be an unprecedented betrayal to the nation if this last block cannot be removed and let the bridge run over the Padma.

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We all know the Padma bridge saga, our failures, audacity, mishandling, ACC's 'special' handling and so on. If again it evaporates into a no, then it is for just one man! He is all powerful, even more so than 160 millions. The piece is well commented upon. Great mystery remains as to why was this great opportunity lost.

: Ali

This is indeed a sad story for Bangladesh. Unfortunately, this is a repeating one. Our leaders and politician do a lip service on corruption because they themselves are deeply entrenched in corruption. Bangladesh needs huge infrastructure projects to propel this country to the next level of economic growth and bring the fruit of independence for the whole population. Padma Bridge is a huge infrastructure project. Bangladesh needs it very badly. Alas our leaders and politician just for the sake of protecting and sheltering corrupt officials within themselves that this country is being deprived of the potential economic growth.

: Akhtar Hossain

Comments

  • fedup
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 01:45 AM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    Be sure that it is only one man, Abul Hossain, and no more obstacle or conditions are likely to follow if 'the one-man' is booked for legal action, and there is nothing sitting on the top of his head as remote controller to adjudicate the decision making on 'one-man'.

  • Sharif
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 02:15 AM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    Our prime minister should intervene immediately! If Abul Hossain is innocent, he should prove it by going through the judicial procedures.

  • a.rahman
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 02:22 AM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    The govt is out of touch with reality. The ACC is a fig leaf for the govt. The question is: Why the fate one single Minster is more important?

  • shamim
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 03:04 AM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    Excellent analyse.

  • mfislam
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 07:04 AM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    Abul Hossain is more important to AL than the bridge.

  • Hafiz Salim Ahmad
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 07:28 AM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    Lovely article. It is the truth. Thanks The Daily Star.

  • Abul
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 08:35 AM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    Now Padma bridge case is like WMD case of Iraq! Is not it?

  • Misbah Uddin Sumon
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 08:44 AM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    Padma Bridge is the critical vital issue not only in our politics but also in our economy. This big project can create job opportunities for 7, 43,000 people what impact on GDP growth will be 1.2 percentage. South-western region of Bangladesh will be well connected with Dhaka through this Bridge. Where people can easily transfer their goods and services from their locality to Dhaka, then the marginal farmers will get the reasonable price and city dwellers will consume fresh foods and vegetables at lower price. It is also the big challenge for ruling party to win the next poll. To increase the GDP and win the election government as well as opposition has to work together to establish this Padma Bridge.

  • plaintalker
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 09:43 AM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    What is the prime minister's role in the affair? She must come clean or face suspicion. The country must take precedence even before the prime minister.

  • shofik hashem
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 12:07 PM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    Though the total contract amount of Consultancy Contract is a small portion of the total project cost but selected consultant of the project play key role in selecting the main construction contract of the project. This is why, the world master of tender manipulation Syed Abul Hossain always give the highest importance in selecting the consultant who will be under his control. Here getting commission as 4% of Consulting Contract was not that much important-if he would succeed in selecting his favoured Consultant he would fix the tender with the help of the Consultant to select his proffered Contractor for the main construction work who would give him 4% or more of total contract price of the whole project. This Syed Abul Hossain has done in his whole business life in Power Sector business.

  • M.K. Alam
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 12:32 PM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    The importance of Padma Bridge for the south western part of the country in particular and national economy in general can hardly be exaggerated. It is estimated that with the operation of Padma Bridge growth of GDP of the country will be increased by 1.2% and that of regional GDP by

    3.5%. In the present set of circumstances the nation can ill

    afford to loose this greatest opportunity for such a growth for a whim of a single person or a group of persons. People of all walks life expect a sharp and positive intervention of the top leader of the country to remove the dead lock in the matter rising over all differences.

  • Mohammad Zahinul Islam
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 12:44 PM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    cant we tell world bank that let abul steal but world bank can keep a tab on that stealing. abul as good biz man will give back that money back with interest after successfully completing his ventures for the well being of the country..

  • Shibesh Kirttania
    Sunday, January 20, 2013 03:43 PM GMT+06:00 (93 weeks ago)

    Will there be no end to this elusive and tantalizing dream of the Padma bridge? Getting disappointed though, but yet optimistic am I. It is because the bridge has to be constructed for the sake of the nation.


 

 


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