Govt against dropping Abul Hossain over Padma Bridge grafts scandal

The Daily Star June 28, 2012

The government has rejected the World Bank’s compromise conditions that it should remove from office all persons related to the alleged corruption in the Padma Bridge project and that it should appoint an independent supervisor to monitor the Anti-Corruption Commission’s probe into the “graft”.

With the rejection of the two out of five conditions that the bank had attached in a last ditch attempt to salvage the project, the future looks bleak for participation of multilateral donors in the bridge construction.

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A high official of the Economic Relations Division yesterday communicated the government’s inability to go by the conditions to WB Vice President Isabel Guerrer.

According to finance ministry officials, the government was agreeable to removing bureaucrats only against whom corruption allegation has surfaced. But it refused to take action against any minister.

Prior to its decision, the government had a series of hectic meetings with a WB team from Washington on Monday and Tuesday. The government decision was also conveyed to other co-financiers, official sources told The Daily Star.

Of the three other conditions which the government had no problem with, one is that a high-powered investigation team has to be formed to probe the allegations of corruption in the bridge project.

Besides, co-financiers of the project will be actively involved in the procurement process for the bridge.

And as a long term step, the government will take initiative to increase the capacity of the ACC.

Early this month, Isabel Guerrer wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, setting the five conditions.

Following this, several letters were exchanged between the government and WB officials in the last couple of weeks.

In mid-June, WB Country Director in Bangladesh Ellen Goldstein flew to Washington to discuss financing the bridge project at the bank’s head office. He returned to Dhaka along with the WB’s integrity vice president and some other officials on Monday to discuss the bank’s conditions with the government high-ups.

The WB team met with the ACC chairman and other commissioners, an adviser to the prime minister, and finance ministry officials.

Contacted, an official at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said since no graft allegation against any person has been proved, it is not possible to remove anybody.

Another official said that at one stage of talks, the government agreed to remove officials against whom corruption allegation has been raised but it did not agree to do so as regards persons beyond that level.

When asked, an ACC official said the ACC is an independent body, and the law does not allow any other organisation to monitor its investigation into alleged corruption.

The WB team returned to Washington on Tuesday night, said an official of the bank.

A WB official told The Daily Star that the bank’s financing of the Padma bridge project has now become uncertain.

Meanwhile, the tenure of incumbent WB President Robert Zoellick expires on June 30.

The WB submitted a report to the government in September last year on the corruption allegations.

And it suspended its funding of the $2.9 billion Padma Multipurpose Bridge project. It had committed $1.2 billion.

In April this year, the bank submitted a second report based on the findings of the Canadian government’s investigation into allegations of graft in appointment of a supervising consultant for the bridge.

The WB and other co-financiers have extended loan effectiveness deadline several times and the last one will expire on July 27.

Work on the bridge project has remained stalled since September last year.