Hasina bins Padma Bridge corruption allegations

Says govt to build Padma bridge with own fund, minister must quit if graft allegation is proved

The Daily Star July 5, 2012

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday blasted the World Bank for cancelling its credit agreement with the government to fund the Padma bridge project and said her government must build the bridge even if it had to be with its own money.

Speaking in parliament, she dismissed the World Bank’s corruption allegations in the project. She said, “Their [World Bank’s] blame is not acceptable at all.”

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Defending her government’s actions taken following the World Bank’s allegation, the premier said the moment the minister’s involvement in the said corruption would be proved, the minister would be fired.

“All of a sudden the World Bank came up with allegations of corruption. But they could not provide any evidence. How could there be corruption when they had not released even a single penny for the project? “Therefore, I think it should be investigated and revealed who are behind it [cancellation of credit] and what are their objectives behind raising allegations of corruption,” the premier said in reply to a question from independent MP Fazlul Azim.

She said she would speak more about it on June 8 during her winding up speech for the ongoing parliament session.

On Monday, Finance Minister AMA Muhith also made a statement in parliament about the issue.

The World Bank on Friday cancelled its funding for the project. It noted that it had “credible evidence corroborated by a variety of sources which points to a high-level corruption conspiracy among Bangladeshi government officials, SNC-Lavalin executives and private individuals in connection with the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project”.

Speaking about alternative funding sources for the project, Hasina said that Malaysia had submitted a proposal relating to the construction of the bridge. Her government, she added, would seek proposals from others too.

“Whatever the proposal is, it must be in line with the interest of our country and our people.”

She said her government was not taking a loan from Malaysia. “They will construct the bridge with their money under BOOT [Built, Operate, Own and Transfer]. And they will take back their money within a certain period. We will not need to spend a single penny.”

Hasina said the bridge could be built by other means as well, including Public Private Partnership.

She said, “We may be poor. But we have been able to maintain a GDP growth amid the global economic recession. Our economic condition is not that bad. So it cannot be said that we will not be able to build the bridge on our own.”

She said she had a meeting on Tuesday with the secretaries of the Economic Relations Division, finance ministry, bridge division and Bangladesh Bank governor to explore ways of building the bridge with the country’s own resources.

“I would like to tell the people that we must build the Padma bridge. If needed, we will do so with our own money. We are able to meet $1 or $2 billion from our own reserves, which we sought from donor agencies. It is not a problem to spend that much money from our reserves.”

On the World Bank’s cancelling the credit agreement, she told the House, “They can do it. It’s their will. And others may also do it and that’s their will.”

Launching a blistering attack on the global lending body, Hasina said the World Bank had itself repeatedly tried and mounted pressure on her government to appoint a particular company as consultant. It had even sent three letters to the government to this effect. “But the company was found to be fake.”

If one reads reports published in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes magazine on alleged corruption in the World Bank, then one would understand where the corruption lies, she said.

She said her government had already spent Tk 1,500 crore on acquiring land and on completion of rehabilitation work. The World Bank itself said that there was no corruption in spending the money for the work.

“Usually, huge corruption takes place in this sort of work.”

Hasina strongly defended her government’s actions following the bank’s allegations of corruption. She said the minister, secretary and project director concerned were removed for the sake of proper investigation.

“Did any government do more than this? Did the past BNP government do so when allegations of corruption were raised in the power and communications sectors?”

Hasina said the World Bank had cancelled the funding of seven projects in the communications sector due to corruption during the last BNP-led government.

“We wanted a fair and transparent probe into the charges of corruption. If the minister’s involvement is proved, he has to be fired from the cabinet,” Hasina said.

At one stage of her long statement, she said, “One thing I want to tell people, all MPs, ministers and government officials: my family includes myself, my younger sister, and our five children.

“Apart from them, I have no one else as my family members. None of my family members takes commission. If anybody uses the name of my family members and wants to take undue advantage, I request all to either make a call or send a text instantly to my mobile phone. My numbers are 01711520000 and 01819260371 or email me at sheikhasina@hotmail.com. I will take action.”