After juggling and muddling with the matter for a while World Bank, the lead financier of Padma Multipurpose Bridge has finally announced the cancellation of its contract with Bangladesh for financing the implementation of Padma Multipurpose Bridge. WB mentioned about lack of action or in other words reluctance of Bangladesh about authentic probe into its allegations of perceived corruption related to selection of supervisory consultant to monitor, overview and ensure quality of construction of works.
Implementation of Padma Bridge is a top priority election pledge of the present Grand Alliance Government. The success and failure of even starting the implementation of the project will mean a lot to the present government as it will give a major issue to irresponsible opposition to make propaganda against them. The frustrated and dismayed people of the south may tend to believe that.
The high powered technical and evaluation committee headed by very accomplished persons like Dr Jamilur Reza Chowdhury recommended for a Canadian Company SNC Lavalin based on the strength of its technical and financial offer. WB alleged that certain Bangladeshi officials including the immediate past Communication Minister Abul Hossain owned family business enterprise Shah Abul Hossain Associates Company Ltd [SAHACO] tried to manipulate and influence the evaluation and award process in connivance with some SNC Lavalin executives and local agents. Needless to mention that the award of supervisory consultancy has not been awarded and the allegation of corruption has not be proved yet in any court .World Bank informed of providing credible evidences of perceived corruption to Bangladesh Government and Anti Corruption Commission.
Canadian police launched an investigation following a tip and arrested two senior executives of SNC Lavalin. The accused suspects may have given some statement to police in initial investigation. But nothing should be concluded based on unsupported statements before these are absolutely proved in the court of law. A Canadian Court is due to hear the case sometime in 2013. WB suspended operation of the loan agreement after receipt of complain and requested Bangladesh to probe into the matter. Following WB action other co-financiers like ADB, IDB and JAICA also suspended the operation of their loan agreements. The works of the bridge virtually stalled.
Bangladesh Government took some interim action like removing Communication and other senior officials from the position and instituting investigation through Anti Corruption commission. ACC requested WB to provide authentic and credible evidences. Through Attorney General Office ACC also requested Canadian Police to provide evidences. A team of Canadian police recently visited Bangladesh. World Bank and Bangladesh are exchanging letters about the matter. While all these are ongoing the announcement of WB cancelling the loan agreement is not only immature but also misleading. Bangladesh government is time and again assuring that it will take strong punitive actions against real offenders if proved through authentic investigations. But short of proving this in the court of justice it is not correct to crucify one just because of any allegation. World Bank has definitely hurried its actions and made itself open to criticism. Bangladesh as a member of World Bank deserves to get answer to some related questions.
- Why should a qualified evaluated bidder of multi donor mega project should at all worry about bribing someone for winning a bid? They would have got it anyway?
- Did WB find anything questionable in the evaluation of bids?
- What evidences WB of Canadian Police found from the documents ceased from SNC Lavalin office in Canada?
- What can be the credible evidence of money promised in advance for a work not being awarded?
- Is it a crime for the company or its local agents to lobby for getting a job and meeting government officials?
We who dealt with WB and its organizations before in implementation of various infrastructure development projects in Bangladesh have mixed feelings about its attitudes to developing nations .It always attach many unrealistic conditionality and unreasonably try to stick to those. They call these loan covenants. WB often sends appraisal and evaluation missions comprising of junior or mid level officials who in many cases do not have any realistic visions. Project after project similar covenants are carried forward bringing no tangible benefits to the borrowers. WB favored consultants take a big chunk away from the project loan without making significant contribution to Project.
Think of WB assisted Natural Gas Development Project in Bangladesh where we had SAIPEM SYNDROME in North-South Pipeline Project. The consultant and Contractor were to be black listed and Bangladesh had to pay huge compensation to failed Italian Contractor Saipem loosing the case in arbitration. WB ofcourse made a correct decision in not allowing Bangladesh go for a local Pipeline Consortium build Ashuganj –Bakhrabad Gas Transmission Pipeline Project through Procurement and Construction Contract in 1995 -96. BNP Government at that time wrongly selected the local Pipeline Construction Consortium through wrong interpretation of domestic preference clause. WB also cancelled a loan for Pipeline Construction across Bangabandhu Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge alleging misprocurement. We are aware that WB suspended all financing to power sector for a long time during and after Ershad regime alleging corruption, poor governance and lack of transparency.
We do not say that there are no attempts for corruption in the implementation process of Padma Multipurpose Bridge. In our socio economic environment none can be above suspects. But at the same time to establish the rule of law no one must be punished on the basis of allegations only. Let there be through investigation on alleged corruption. Just on the basis of allegations WB must not have cancelled the operation of the loan agreement .It is unfair and unjust to a member country.
Such unilateral actions can trigger many gossips and speculation. The immediate reaction of the leader of the opposition is very interesting .She has sought for resignation of the Government for the alleged corruption. Are she and her alliance involved in any conspiracy behind WB taking such action? We do not believe that Nobel Laureate Prof MD .Yunus can be an actor behind this. But then who knows. WB has not taken such extreme decision without discussing with US Government. Khaleda Zia must not forget that the country earned the ignominy of the championship as the most corrupt country of the world for four consecutive years during her last term. FBI and other foreign agencies provided credible evidence against her sons siphoning of ill gotten money from Bangladesh .She must not try to throw stones sitting in glass house.
Government is strongly contesting the allegations. Government is also looking for alternate funding. It is impossible to get competitive funding for such a mutt billion Dollar Mega Project. The process will be lengthy and protracted .There is no way the implementation of the mega project can even start during the current tenure of the present government. But then why government should take the blame if it is not involved in corrupt practice that WB is alleging. Time is not yet over for engaging very proactively with WB and find out the presence or absence of rats here. If some persons or organizations are genuinely involved let them be punished. Bangladesh needs to keep its image clean to world community. Nation is above all individual whoever it might be.
We people of Southern part of Bangladesh were hoping against hope for successful implementation of Padma bridge absence of which has deprived billions from mainstream economy. Failure to even start implementation of it will serve deadly blow to present government in the upcoming general election.