Muhith hopeful over Padma Bridge Project as ‘Abul is down’

The Daily Star July 25, 2012

Now that Syed Abul Hossain has resigned, the government expects a positive development on the Padma bridge funding, as the chiefs of Jica and the World Bank meet in Washington today.

Jica President Akihiko Tanaka is expected to request the new WB President Jim Yong Kim to review the Bank’s cancellation of its $1.2 billion loan as the lead financier in the Padma bridge project.

The Bank scrapped the loan agreement on June 29 after a prolonged dialogue with the government failed, as the latter did not take steps, as suggested by the WB, on alleged corruption in the appointment of project supervisor.

বিশ্বব্যাংকের শর্ত পূরণে ‘আবুল ইজ ডাউন’: মুহিত

The Bank alleged that Abul was involved in corruption in selecting SNC Lavalin, a Canadian firm. Based on the Bank’s report, Canadian Mounted Police arrested two Lavalin executives in Toronto. They are now on trial. The first hearing of the case will take place in April next year.

Yeafesh given addl charge of ICT

According to sources, following the WB’s loan cancellation, the government approached Jica to persuade the Bank to review its decision.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith talked to the Jica president over the phone on Monday. The Jica chief agreed to raise the Padma bridge issue with the global lender provided the government took some steps on a vital WB condition.

The condition was that the government send on leave the public officials and former communications minister Abul, who were allegedly involved in corruption in the project.

With Abul’s resignation as ICT minister, the government believes the stumbling block to reviving the loan agreement is gone. He was removed from the communications ministry and given the charge of ICT ministry on December 5 last year after the WB brought corruption allegations against him and suspended its loan.

Another key official, former Bridges Division secretary Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, who also faces corruption allegations over the project, went on leave yesterday.

Mosharraf was made executive chairman of Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority after the WB brought corruption allegations over the project in September last year.

“I will remain on leave until the Anti-Corruption Commission completes its investigation,” Mosharraf told The Daily Star, adding that he had decided to go on leave for the sake of a fair probe into the corruption allegations.

Jica and the Asian Development Bank are the two partners of the financial arrangement that was led by the WB. The effectuation deadline of the loans from these two co-financiers will expire on July 30. This is why the government, earlier slow in settling issues with the WB, is now rushing things.

If the Jica chief can convince the WB chief to review the Bank’s cancellation of the loan, Jica and ADB may get a scope for extending the deadline, said sources.

If the WB does not change its decision, the deadline will expire and the government will have to negotiate once again with these agencies for a new loan agreement. But that will take time.

The finance minister yesterday said he hoped the Bank’s fund would still be available for the $2.97 billion project.

“A few government officials have already been asked to go on leave. Gazette notifications on this will be published in a day or two,” Muhith told reporters at his secretariat office yesterday.

“Abul Hossain has stood down. This is an unusual step.”

Muhith said the government had accepted all conditions of the global lender though there was “no evidence of corruption” in the project.

“We will still try to accommodate the World Bank’s proposals so that the lending agency releases the funds for the bridge.”

Meanwhile, Abul’s name has been dropped from the list of ministers on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The 6.15km bridge over the Padma river will connect the capital with 19 south-western districts.