The government will construct the Padma bridge with funds from alternative sources if the World Bank does not give any decision on its financing of the project by this month, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said yesterday.
“Alternative arrangements are in place…if the World Bank does not finance the project, we will start the construction. Inshallah, the bridge will be built,” Hasina said at a press conference with editors and senior journalists at the Prime Minister's Office.
She said the project's work such as construction of approach roads and land acquisition is still going on.
Hasina said a year has already been lost to the enquiry into the corruption allegations in the project. “But since we have started the work, we must complete it. We will also be able to make up for the lost time.”
The prime minister also spoke on other issues, including war crimes trial, deals with Russia on defence purchase and nuclear power plant, foreign policy, maritime boundary, the next general election, BCL activities and international conspiracy.
Hasina's remark on the bridge project came after the chief of a private TV channel asked if she had any discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin during her recent Moscow visit about Padma bridge funding and whether she senses any conspiracy involving the $2.9 billion project.
The WB cancelled its $1.2 billion funding in the project on June 29 last year, saying it had proof of a "corruption conspiracy" involving Bangladeshi officials, executives of a Canadian firm and some individuals.
The global lender on September 21 decided to revive the loan after Bangladesh agreed to the bank's terms and conditions.
Hasina said, “It is not acceptable to stop the work on the excuse that a corruption conspiracy, not any graft, took place. We have done nothing wrong.”
“Analyse the corruption conspiracy formula, and you will find if things work that way, no investment could be made in Bangladesh, no work done.”
Criticising the WB, Hasina said, “The lender not only suspended its funds but also asked Jica, ADB and other co-financiers to follow suit as they are members of the consortium for financing the project.”
She said the global lender was allowed to investigate the allegations whatever way they wanted.
In an oblique reference to a meeting between ex-communications minister Syed Abul Hossain and SNC Lavalin officials, Hasina questioned the logic behind the WB's allegations, and said it is illogical that the person who arranged the meeting is innocent but the one who held the meeting is guilty.
The prime minister said there was an understanding between the WB and the Anti-Corruption Commission that nothing related to the investigation would be disclosed.
She wondered how a particular daily newspaper published the questions the WB panel asked in a letter to the ACC even before the commission or the finance ministry or she got it.
“This was published in a particular process… please you make an inquiry to see if there is any ill motive or purpose behind it,” Hasina told the journalists.
Luis Moreno Ocampo, the chairman of the WB external panel, wrote a letter to the ACC chairman on January 9. ACC Commissioner Mohammad Shahabuddin on January 14 told reporters that the commission received the letter three days back and the panel was happy with the ACC probe.
The Daily Star published the WB panel's letter on January 15, and the ACC commissioner's statement clarifies that the ACC got it much before the letter was published in the newspaper.
The prime minister said the project's cost went up because her government wanted to build it with both roadway and railway tracks, and also due to its technical complexity.
The bridge could be constructed at a lesser cost if built with only roadways for vehicular movement.
She indicated that if the WB does not finance the project, the bridge would be built on a revised design with the provision of a rail link up to the Mongla port.