World Bank back in Padma project

The lead financier of the Padma bridge project, the World Bank is finally back on board ending days of speculations and frantic negotiations after the global lender pulled out of the project about two and half a months back.

Bangladesh Ambassador to the United States Akramul Qader confirmed on Thursday about the reversal of its previous decision to pull out citing evidence of corruption.

“The World Bank has decided to engage itself in Padma bridge project and informed other lending agencies about the decision,” Qader said over phone.

Earlier in the afternoon, Finance Minister AMA Muhith had said the World Bank will also have to ‘leave’ certain things, along with the government, to reach an agreement.

The Ambassador was expecting a formal announcement from the global lender on Thursday night.

The World Bank decision followed the visit of Prime Minister’s International Affairs Advisor Gawher Rizvi to Washington. He was supposed to meet the World Bank officials once again for further discussions.

The Washington-based lender suspended its pledged $1.2 billion credit last year raising graft allegations against some senior government officials, and set some conditions for its return to the project. It finally cancelled the deal on June 29 saying no measures were taken to meet those conditions.

The government responded by announcing that the bridge would be built with own resources, if need be, but continued pursuing the World Bank for reconciliation.

As part of the process, former Communication Minister Syed Abul Hossain eventually resigned and Bridges Division Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan was sent on leave.

Sources in the government said on Sep 18 that the Prime Minister’s Economic Affairs Advisor Dr Moshiur Rahman, who was the Integrity Advisor of the project, had been sent on leave, but Moshiur denied this.

The news of Moshiur going on leave gave rise to the latest wave of speculation that the final obstacle to World Bank’s return to the project was removed.

Rizvi left for Washington this month for meeting World Bank officials at its headquarters. The team of representatives from the Bangladesh government had met a group of World Bank representatives on Wednesday.

“I talked with Gawher Rizvi this morning too. He is scheduled to meet the World Bank officials today (Thursday),” said Ambassador Qader.

Muhith had also hoped in the afternoon that the lending agency could make an announcement on the issue ‘any moment’. “The government will also make its announcement once they make theirs.”

When asked about the latest situation regarding Moshiur, the Finance Minister said, “Moshiur Rahman will not have links with any economic matters, including the Padma bridge.”

The government had struck the deal with four international lenders – World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Islamic Development Bank – for building the bridge which was one of its major electoral pledges.

A design for the 6-km long two-storied bridge establishing rail and road communications with the southern region was finalised. The government also began taking over land for the $ 2.9 billion bridge.

The crisis began to unfold after Canadian engineering firm SNC Lavalin was charged by Canadian police with corruption in the bidding process for getting a supervisor for the project. The World Bank suspended the pledged $ 1.2 billion loan.

The government had been refuting the allegation ever since it surfaced and refused to initiate any move to fulfil the World Bank conditions, leaving the project fate uncertain.

The bank cancelled its contract in June this year alleging that the government had failed to meet its requirements, drawing strong reaction from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself.

The decision to build the bridge with own resources was taken in the Cabinet too, while talks went on with the government of Malaysia for funding.

But, Muhith had always been optimistic about getting the bank back in the project.

“In the beginning, the World Bank alleged corruption had taken place in the Padma bridge project. After our continuous denial and presenting facts before them, they are now talking in terms of a ‘possible graft’,” Muhith said in the afternoon.

The Finance Minister said the government had to initiate some ‘tough measures’ over the issue.

He also observed that the bank’s change of heart has upheld the nation’s goodwill, which was stained over the graft allegations.

The World Bank pullout saw other lenders like the Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Islamic Development Bank suspend their part of the loan. However, the ADB and the JICA extended their disbursement deadline twice at the government’s request.