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Saturday, February 2, 2013
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Padma Bridge Project

No to WB funds

Govt finally withdraws loan request, asks co-financiers to retain fund; graft conspiracy probe to continue; govt to convene meeting of dev partners soon

The government has withdrawn its request to the World Bank for the Padma bridge loan, bringing to a close a saga over finance for the country's largest ever infrastructure project.

Dhaka communicated the decision to the global lender on Thursday, a day after the WB president in Washington said the financing for the project would not go ahead unless certain conditions were met.

In a statement issued yesterday evening, the government said it had kept maintaining for the last few days that it expected the WB financing within last month and that it was determined to take an alternative decision regarding the matter by that time.

“As per the decision, the government yesterday [Thursday] informed the World Bank that it wanted to begin the work of Padma bridge project right now and without the World Bank finance,” read the statement.

Earlier in the day, the WB released a press statement saying, “The World Bank has taken note of the government decision of not seeking renewed World Bank financing for the Padma bridge, and it encourages the Anti-Corruption Commission to complete a full and fair investigation of the corruption allegations.”

The government said it believed the WB's reconsideration was positive for Bangladesh and it attested what the government had been saying from the outset.

“The government has all along been saying that it is seriously considering the World Bank's allegation of corruption. But due to lack of evidence, it was not possible to file an FIR until June 2012.”

Later in November, the statement continued, when the bank provided additional evidence, the Anti-Corruption Commission filed an FIR against some persons. In the FIR, the ACC also said it had taken measures to investigate several other accused.

The government believes this step is appropriate and, on the basis of that, the World Bank should have started implementation of the project.

“Besides, it was found that the government's project implementation schedule does not fit with that of the World Bank. As per the World Bank schedule, the project implementation is uncertain,” the statement added.

“To fulfil its election pledge, the government decides it will start the project without the World Bank assistance. If necessary, there will only be a road bridge to reduce the project cost.”

This decision was conveyed also to other development partners. Calling for their continued support, the government also decided to invite them to discuss on the project implementation schedule and steps.

The move came hours before WB President Jim Yong meets the external panel, formed to assess the ACC probe into the graft allegations.

Apparently, the government wanted to make sure that the WB did not have the chance to cancel the loan for the second time.

On January 9, the external panel, headed by Lewis Ocampo, expressed its displeasure at the case filed by the ACC in December for the graft conspiracy.

The panel was particularly unhappy over exclusion of Syed Abul Hossain, ex-minister for communications, from the list of accused.

It said Abul Hossain was personally involved in the corruption conspiracy to award the construction supervisor's job to Canadian company SNC Lavalin.

The fate of the project depended on the panel's report.

The three-member external panel has meanwhile reached Washington, DC, to hold a meeting with the WB president last night (Bangladesh time).

Ellen Goldstein, immediate past WB Bangladesh country director, was expected to be there.

Sources said the panel would present at the meeting its opinion about the case. Now that the government has rescinded its request, the WB has no action to take.

The finance minister on January 17 urged the World Bank to take a decision within the month. On January 23, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reiterated the same.

On Wednesday, Jim Yong Kim during a discussion on anti-graft issues in Washington said the lender would not finance the project unless certain conditions were met and Bangladesh gave an assurance that a complete and fair probe was under way.

Muhith the same day told journalists that he was seeking Jim Yong's appointment in February. The WB chief's remark was still unknown in Dhaka.

The next day, as the WB president's comments were reported in the media, the government scrapped its request for funding.

In yesterday's statement, the government said, “The finance minister would speak on this matter in parliament on Sunday [tomorrow] or Monday.”

Earlier in the day, the finance minister told the BSS that a fresh plan on the project funding would be unveiled in the parliament tomorrow.

Ministry sources say Muhith wrote a two-page letter to the WB boss.

The Economic Relations Division sent similar letters to other co-financiers -- the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) -- with separate cover letters explaining why the government sought to withdraw from the request.

In the letter to the WB, the government praised the four-decade development partnership with the Washington-based lender. It expressed gratitude for the latter's consent to fund the project.

“But the government wants to speed up the Padma bridge project implementation,” a source said, citing from the letter.

“The government wanted the WB to delink investigation from procurement process. Since it was not done, the government has requested withdrawal of the WB financing.”

In the letters to the co-financiers, the government sought continuation of their financial commitment for the bridge project, said a finance ministry official.

Out of the $2.9 billion required to build this 6.15 kilometre bridge along with rail, the WB had committed $1.2b and the ADB and Jica nearly one billion dollars.

While the government expects the ADB and Jica to keep the commitment for this one billion, a finance ministry official said now that the loan from the lead financer WB was cancelled, the agreement with the co-financiers would automatically become ineffective.

Therefore, if the government wanted to retain these co-financiers, it would have to sign a new agreement, which would take at least a year.

Already, ADB has pulled out of the project.

In reviving the cancelled World Bank loan last year, Finance Minister Muhith, PM's Adviser Gowher Rizvi and LGRD Minister Syed Ashraf played strong role while many opposed the revival.

Contacted, ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman yesterday said the ACC investigation into the graft would continue in spite of the latest development.

"We have lodged the FIR [first information report] after completing an enquiry into the allegation," he said. "We will continue investigation in the case in a transparent manner."

The ACC will follow its rules and regulation, he said over the phone, adding that they would complete the case investigation and take subsequent legal steps.

After a year-long enquiry into the allegation over Padma bridge project, the Anti-Corruption Commission on December 17 last year filed the case against seven people for conspiring to commit bribery.

The accused include former secretary of the Bridges Division Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, but the anti-graft body did not include in the case former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain and former state minister for foreign affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury.

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Shame on the government. Nothing should be done now till a new government takes over after the elections. We cannot afford so high interest rates offered by Malaysia which is 8 times higher than that of the Word Bank.

: Nick

Muthith, his boss, and all AL ministers, must address the nation instead of addressing the parliament, and explain that why the World Bank will not fund the Padma Bridge Project. ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman must also accompany them. They must explain why Abul and Abul are more important than the Padma Bridge so that those could not be brought to justice. After giving their explanations, all of them must apologise to the nation, ask for forgiveness, and then resign.

: Truth Teller


  • Zahed
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 12:55 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Seems like Abul is more important to the government than Padma bridge.

  • Faridul Alam, PhD
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 01:08 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    The hubris of the AL government, in spite of bending over backwards or hiding behind the smoke screen, when it comes to measuring up to the requirement of transparency, locally and globally, is simply mind-boggling. Is this popular now party pitted against itself, more than ever before because of its leaders are unwilling or unable to learn from the mistakes? No other political party may be doing any better in Bangladesh at this time, but it does not mean that AL should continue to do worse in order to outmanoeuvre them all, before it is already on the wrong side of history, willy-nilly.

  • Robin
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 01:37 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    The day after is still a bad news for Bangladesh. It is the corruption stigma that has defined the Padma bridge and AL. Unfortunately the people of Bangladesh suffered a setback due to the arrogance of the Government.

    Bad news for Bangladesh!

  • Nasirullah Mridha
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 02:11 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Why the people will be deprived from WB fund for the corruption of AL Ministers? If they try to forswear the rail line entire project would be a sham which the people envisioned from long since.

  • Parvez Babul, Journalist
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 11:18 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    The Awami League government should take the Padma bridge issue seriously. And must start constructing the bridge through exploring fund from the alternative sources include, Malaysian government, Chinese companies, own fund, sovereign bond, foreign credits, grants among others. ‘Failure’ is totally unexpected from the Awami League government, rather we expect total ‘success’ as the Prime Minister showed us ‘hope’.

  • Labu Khan
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 02:12 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    One of the conditions of the World Bank was to include both the Abuls in the Padma bridge scandal. The PM knowingly did not include Abuls in this case fearing discloser of some bigwig names. In order not to drag this issue any further, the government finally withdrew the loan request from the WB. It is really unfortunate that now the government is considering alternative Malaysian proposal with 6% interest rather than 0.75% of the WB. This is a conspiracy and is against the interest of this nation. I voted for the AL last time but will definitely not this time as I have lost all respect for them.

  • suahmed
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 02:22 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    We have lost a golden opportunity because of unyielding attitude of the government to save an accused minister. How can we hope that other options will work where corruption prevails? The image of the AL government has totally ruptured in the world community.

  • Zaman Khan
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 02:40 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    This proves the corruption exists in the top tier of the government and even our prime minister knowingly acknowledges and promotes corruption. By going for alternative funding with a much more higher interest rate it also proves that this government is working against the national interest just to save some corrupted individuals who may also have close connections with the PM and her close relatives. No more votes for AL in the future.

  • Ronny
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 03:31 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    WB stance on this was clear from day one - eliminate, pursue, investigate and prosecute corrupt minister and government official... and they will give the loan.

    Unfortunately, to Hasina, Abul was more valuable than the country and it's people.

    Over and over again, AL and BNP both have failed us.

  • Barkat
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 03:34 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    People of Bangladesh will never forget nor forgive those few bunch of corrupt people because of whom the entire nation had to face not just delay and cost in building bridge but also the disgrace of being a corrupt nation. The only way to teach these corrupt gang is to take away the power from them so that they can face the justice of betraying the pride and honour of 150 million Bangalee.

  • true_talk
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 03:56 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Bravo Hasina! You proved to us that you have forgotten your oath to office. It was not for God and Country but for party and money. We won't forget.... Ask yourself first why people should vote for your party next time.

  • T Islam
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 04:54 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    This just shows that the government is more interested in petty party politics than the actual development of the country.

    30 million people would have been benefited from the bridge, now, I guess one Abul has been appeased and his continued support to the AL ensured.

  • Asad Zaman
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 05:10 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Yes begin the construction work of the bridge Right Now! Wonderful! I salute this bold decision of the Bangladesh government with a great contentment. The nation with such a rich human capital must show its backbone and stands on its own feet. Long Live Bangladesh…

  • dr islam
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 05:25 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Extreme example of shamelessness...

  • Roni Rahman
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 06:36 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    This is totally unacceptable. The government needs to be sued and hold accountable in poll for this transgression and hubristic usurping of people money. The government is legally and morally bound to go for the least available cost in its spending. Choosing to save one favourable minister from corruption at the expense of burdening the nation in billions of public debt is utterly arrogant and violently disrespectful to the solemn obligation that AL owes to the people who had elected them to power.

  • nuton
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 06:42 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Thanks AL government. We have enough manpower, all we need to use them...

  • shahriyar
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 07:12 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    The reason why the government did not add Abul's name is because that would expose 'big names'. This is shameful indeed. If the government goes ahead with the project with costlier options, this would be a foolish economic decision and end up costing Bangladesh more than the benefits it would reap from the bridge. Not to mention corruption rampage would go on unhindered raising the cost of the bridge further!!!

  • Dr. Iftikhar-ul-Awwal, DU
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 09:03 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Failing to clear its name from alleged corruption conspiracy, the government has finally killed the golden goose. I do not believe that any democratically elected government worth the name can go this far to defend a person or two. Just like the tip of the iceberg, Abuls surfaced but deeper remained the prime movers. I am certain, some day, the root cause will emerge. Realistically and also rationally speaking, the Padma Bridge Project along with Grameen should be in the election manifesto of political parties in the next general election so that people may decide the next course of action. It would now be rather imprudent to rush to world money market to obtain the required alternative finance, and that too, for a truncated bridge without rail at exorbitant rates of interest. Mind you, being a financially starved nation, we cannot experiment with billions of dollars and the one that we intend building should be a world class bridge as designed and contemplated by experts. Please do not play high stake games at the cost of the people, that is, if you really love the country and its hard working people trying to come out of the poverty trap.

  • Abdur Raquib, London
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 09:06 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    The international agencies offered Bangladesh $2.2 billion at an average interest rate of less than 1%. Malaysia has offered loans at 6%. This is a difference of 5% or $100 million per annum. The total over 25 years would be an extra cost of $2.5 billion - a staggering cost for a poor nation.

    The government has chosen loyalty to an allegedly corrupt ex-minister over loyalty to the country, and saddled it's people with a monumental burden.

  • M. K. Alam
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 09:16 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    It is irony of fate for a poor country like ours that to save a single person we have to forego the greatest opportunity of having such an important, viable and biggest project in the country. Much have been talked and written in the subject but all hopes and aspirations of the people are succumbed to personal whims of our top leaders.

  • Md Shahjahan
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 09:43 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    We don't know the decision how much costlier or not. But if it were implemented, no doubt it would bring much benefit for the country.

  • Anonymous,USA
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 09:42 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    What a pathetic end to a grand saga where the whole world saw that our PM can sacrifice any great national interest just to protect one man. Abul must have a heavy weight that the nation can not match. Perhaps Abul and the like have enough resources to build the Padma Bridge.

  • M Z Haque
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 11:07 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    I welcome the Move taken by the government...

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 11:11 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    The government opted to stand by the corrupt Abul Hossain forsaking a colossal national interest like cheaper World Bank financing of Padma Bridge. They will be paid back in same coin by the nation in next General Election. Just wait and see.

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 11:40 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Without having the smooth repayment guarantee you never expect the loan facility from any where.

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 11:26 AM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    The government finally opted to stand by the corrupt Abul Hossain and his clandestine godfather, forsaking a colossal national interest, jeopardising the golden opportunity of getting cheaper World Bank financing of Padma Bridge. They will face the consequence in the next General Election.

  • Sixth Sense
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 01:40 PM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    There are no alternatives to the loan pledged by the world bank. Any of the presumed alternatives, if accepted, will not only increase the cost of the entire project but will also increase interest element which is six times more than the rate on such loans charged by the consortium. We should start building the bridge after sweeping out the corrupt government from power by next eleven months. When we could wait so long for a bridge, we can wait some more time for it.

  • Truth Seeker
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 03:19 PM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Every time I read the comment made by Mr. Asad Zaman it makes me feel that is he under the command of FM Muhith or is it Muhith himself under Asad Zaman name. The comments of Asad Zaman are as baseless and out of reality as Muhith's. What makes him think that taking loan from other sources at 8 times higher interest than the WB is good for Bangladesh. When the whole nation is ashamed of AL corrupt practices, Zaman finds it time to salute the government. Zaman can show his loyalty for AL in any AL's meeting and spare the readers with illogical support for a very corrupt government.

  • Vampire knight
    Saturday, February 2, 2013 02:53 PM GMT+06:00 (157 weeks ago)

    Finally the government has failed to prove that there has been no corruption and thus accepted the blame. Now before doing anything about Padma Bridge the government first must complete the trial of corruption and punish the corrupt people, whoever is he or she.





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