Timeline: The WB, Padma bridge & Abul Hossain

E-Bangladesh Desk

E-Bangladesh Desk

August 20, 2007: An ECNEC meeting headed by Fakhruddin Ahmed approves the Padma bridge project with a cost estimation of Tk 10,161 crore.

January 11, 2011: The ECNEC approves the revised plan with a nearly double cost of Tk 20,507 crore for the project.

February 2011: The WB board approves the $1.2 billion financing out of a total cost of $2.9 billion.

April 2011: The WB signs the deal with the government.

September 19, 2011: The ACC launches an investigation into the corruption allegations in Padma bridge project following media reports.

September 21, 2011: The WB sends a letter to the finance minister alleging that then the communications minister Syed Abul Hossain and high officials of SAHCO had pressed for the appointment of SAHCO as a “commission agent” regarding the selection of contractors’ pre-qualification for the main bridge’s construction. The lender also suspends financing.

October 2011: The WB and other loan effectuation expires; the tenure was extended by three months

Sometime in October, 2011: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) launch an investigation against SNC-Lavalin following a WB request, raid the company’s office, seize all documents from there and arrest former chief executive Pierre Duhaime, Bangladeshi-born Canadian citizen Ismail Hossain and Indian-born Canadian citizen Ramesh.

December 5, 2012: Syed Abul Hossain removed from the communications ministry and given the charge of ICT ministry. Obaidul Quader replaces him.

January 2012: Loan effectuation dates extended by six months; the date expires on July 27.

January 2, 2012: The ACC has said that its investigation found no tangible evidence of corruption in the project and that it did not find any proof of corruption against Abul Hossain.

January, 2012: Malaysia formally proposes a $2.19-billion loan for the bridge project.

February 2, 2012: The ACC sends its investigation report to the WB saying that the allegation was not proved by documentary evidence and other proof. “If any tangible evidence on the allegation emerges subsequently, we will reopen the enquiry process.”

January 26, 2012: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said the allegation of corruption must to be proved. “If not, we won’t accept the fund of that agency for the Padma bridge. The government has already decided to construct the mega project by any country, individual or company.”

March 14, 2012: Finance Minister AMA Muhith gives proposal to China when Li Jun, new Chinese Ambassador to Dhaka, for financing of the Padma bridge. He said, “We have been continuing talks with the World Bank… If the World Bank finally does not finance the project, the government wants to enter into a new agreement so that the project can be started by next dry season. In such a scenario, we are considering different alternative sources including Malaysia, China, ADB, JICA and IDB.”

March 19, 2012: Chinese Ambassador Li Jun says his government would consider financing the Padma bridge project if Bangladesh formally approaches them. However, the envoy suggested Bangladesh first settle the issue with the World Bank.

March 25, 2012: The Malaysian cabinet approves Padma bridge project funding.

First week, April 2012: The WB temporarily bans a unit of SNC-Lavalin from taking part in any of the Bank’s funded projects.

April 6, 2012: Hasina has said the Padma bridge would be constructed with Malaysian funds but Bangladesh’s relation with the WB would not be harmed. The Malaysian option would be better, she thinks. She hints that had the bridge been built with the World Bank funding, people would have had to pay excess toll.

April 10, 2012: Bangladesh signs an agreement with Malaysia where the latter firm will invest, arrange or mobilise at least the estimated project cost or $2.3 billion for implementing the project.

Second week, April 2012: The WB provides the government with the second report on corruption.

May 28, 2012: A 26-member delegation, led by Malaysian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy Dato Seri S Samy Vellu, places a concept proposal on Padma bridge project to Communications Minister Obaidul Quader. The minister said they would go back to the WB only if it assured funding within the government’s tenure. “But we cannot wait for years for the World Bank funding, as we have political pledge to meet. They bank may have allegations against one or two high officials but they cannot punish the people of Bangladesh.”

May 29, 2012: Hasina and her Qatari counterpart discuss financing for Padma bridge project.

June 8, 2012: Finance Secretary Mohammad Tareque says if need be the government would use the Tk 3,000 crore set aside for Public Private Partnership in the proposed budget. Tk 805 crore has been allocated for the bridge in the ADP.

Early June 2012: In a letter to Hasina, WB Vice President Isabel Guerrer gives the government “five conditions” to take to get WB funding for the massive project. The conditions are: 1. A high-powered investigation team has to be formed to probe the corruption allegations in the project. 2. An independent firm has to be appointed to monitor implementation of the project. 3. The independent firm will not be under the government or any co-financier of the bridge project. It will make its recommendations independently, and the authorities concerned will implement those. The persons against whom there are allegations of corruption regarding the bridge project would not be in its implementation. 4. The co-financiers will have to be actively involved in the procurement process for the bridge. 5. As a long term step, the government will take initiative to increase the capacity of the ACC.

End June, 2012: According to RCMP, the SNC-Lavalin had offered at least six influential Bangladeshis huge bribes to obtain the consultant’s job in the Padma bridge project. They are — Abul Hossain, Abul Hasan Chowdhury, Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, ex-secretary of the Bridges Division of the communications ministry, Rafiqul Islam ex-director of Padma Multipurpose Bridge project, Mujibur Rahman Chowdhury alias Nixon Chowdhury, civil contractor, and Ziaul Huq, managing director of Engineering and Planning Consultant Ltd (CEP), who represented SNC-Lavalin in the Padma bridge tender.

June 20, 2012: ACC Secretary Faizur Rahman Chowdhury says the ACC had launched two separate investigations on the Padma bridge project. “One is on the construction of the bridge and the other on the appointment of a consultant firm,” he said, “In the first investigation, we did not find any proof in favour of the allegation. The second investigation is still on.”

June 20, 2012: Abul Hossain claims: “I am a transparent and holy person. I have always done my job with efficiency, transparency and honesty. I have not done anything wrong in my life. Everything published in some newspapers linking me with irregularities in the Padma bridge project is false, baseless and fabricated. Nothing unethical happened in the bridge project. I did not even get any undue proposal regarding it.” The ex-communications minister claimed that all the agencies of the world, apart from the WB and ACC, could investigate the alleged corruption if they wanted but they would not find any proof of his involvement with any irregularities. He said the ACC had not found his involvement in any scandal regarding the bridge project after a long and thorough investigation.

June 20, 2012: Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, now the chairman of Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority under the PMO, rejects the allegation of demanding commission from SNC-Lavalin. “I am sure the WB won’t be able to show evidence. When the WB alleged corruption in the Padma bridge project last year, we requested them several times to come and talk to us. But they only talked with the complainants. Usually, both sides should be consulted. He said he had no idea whether the former CEO of SNC-Lavalin had been arrested in connection with his role in corruption in Bangladesh. Nothing wrong would emerge from the investigation.

June 25, 2012: An eight member team of RCMP arrives in Dhaka and holds a meeting with the top ACC officials somewhere outside the ACC headquarters to avoid the media. Officials made contradictory comments on their arrival.

June 25-26, 2012: WB Country Director in Bangladesh Ellen Goldstein, WB’s integrity vice president and some other officials discuss the bank’s conditions with the government high-ups.

June 27, 2012: Muhith tells parliament that the government will not disclose the names of the people allegedly involved in corruption in the Padma bridge project without any evidence.

June 27, 2012: The ACC bars journalists from entering its office without prior notice. ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman says, “…the journalists are obstructing our investigations.”

June 27, 2012: The government rejects the WB’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 ACC’s probe into the “graft”. The government was agreeable to removing the bureaucrats only, not against Syed Abul Hossain.

June 28, 2012: The ACC authorities impose a formal ban on the media’s access to its office. The notice reads: “The ACC has formulated the Information Release Policy 2011 for providing information. According to the policy, the PRO will collect questions from reporters within 10:30am and provide answers to them around 4:00pm every day. Journalists will be able to enter the ACC office only if the commission invites them. Otherwise, there is no scope for newsmen to enter the office.”

June 28, 2012: Malaysia gives a draft proposal to the Bangladesh government for signing a final deal on its financing the Padma bridge project. According to the proposal, the Malaysian government will invest around $3 billion and complete the construction in three years. It will operate the bridge for 37 years and then hand it over to the Bangladesh government. Obaidul Quader said the proposal would be reviewed thoroughly before talking about it with the Malaysian government. On the WB’s financing the project, he said the door to negotiations with the WB would remain open until signing of the final deal with Malaysia.

June 30, 2012: The WB in a statement announces scrapping of the loan financing, saying that it had presented “credible proof of corruption in the Padma bridge project to Bangladesh but the latter did not take step in that regard”.

June 30, 2012: The term of WB President Robert Zoellick expires.

Early July: Disclosing what the government wrote to the WB, Muhith says Bangladesh will not disclose the bank’s reports and documents as a mark of respect for the global lender’s confidentiality.

July 1, 2012: Muhith says, “We consider this statement completely unacceptable. I think it is not the World Bank’s statement. It is outgoing President Mr Robert Zoellick’s personal comment.” There was no corruption in the project even though about Tk 1,500 crore had already been spent. “The World Bank’s apprehensions are all about probable corruption that could have taken place if bidders had been selected.” “We have taken extraordinary steps to dispel the World Bank’s suspicions.”

July 1, 2012: Terming the WB’s allegation untrue, ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman at a press briefing says the decision of cancelling the fund for the bridge project was “unjust, unexpected and unwise”.

He said the World Bank in February suggested that the commission seize the bank accounts and travel documents of former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain and high officials of his family-owned company SAHCO. The anti-graft body, he noted, could not however work on the WB suggestion because its own laws did not permit it to do so. Canadian police seized a notebook of Ramesh Saha, a former vice-president of SNC-Lavalin, who was arrested by the Canadian police. Saha had mentioned the “percentage to be allotted to specific persons in connection with the award of the contract”. He said in April the WB handed over some “Supplemental Referral of Information” to the ACC. “The World Bank provided the names of some persons on the basis of the notebook, although the names in the notebook were mentioned symbolically. The commission does not find it right to conclude without any more evidence that the persons in the list asked for bribes, and it will not be lawful too.”

July 1, 2012: ACC’s legal adviser Anisul Huq says, “It was premeditated by the World Bank that it would not fund the Padma bridge project. That is why the Bank authorities have raised an excuse that the ACC did not respond to them.”

July 2, 2012: Muhith in parliament says, “I want to state in clear terms that there has been no misuse, corruption or irregularities in the Padma bridge project.” He said he believed former World Bank president Robert Zoellick had never taken into cognisance any of Bangladesh’s proposals to end the stalemate over the Padma bridge project. “Probably, in an attempt to settle the issue in haste during his term, the outgoing World Bank president Robert Zoellick took this imprudent decision which has shattered Bangladesh’s image.”

July 1, 2012: Obaidul Quader tells reporters that cost of the bridge’s construction from alternative source could be lower. And thus economical pressure on people would be at tolerable level. “It would be a surprise.”

July 3, 2012: In a statement Quader says his using the word surprise was a mistake. He reiterated that the construction could be started within February.

July 4, 2012: Hasina tells parliament, first time since cancellation of the fund, her government will construct the Padma bridge, with the country’s own fund, if needed. She refuted the corruption conspiracies in the project and termed the allegations unacceptable. “…I think it should be investigated to reveal the people working behind the cancellation of credit and the possible objectives behind raising allegation of corruption.” The behind story is, the World Bank has issued letters three times for recruiting one specific company as a consultant to the construction of Padma bridge project.”

Claiming that none of her family members were involved in corruption, Hasina gave her two mobile numbers and email address to let people inform her about any corruption allegation against her family.

July 8, 2012: The prime minister has said in parliament that the government will start construction of the Padma bridge with its own funds in the current fiscal year and elaborates how her government would arrange the money for the project from various sources. “We will not bow to anybody… The construction cost has increased due to the delay. I will ask the finance minister to seek compensation from the World Bank.”

Hasina also accuses the WB of instigating other lending agencies, including the ADB, IDB and JICA, not to provide funds for the project. Like a communist-attack on the capitalists, she says the country’s jute industries and railway sector had been destroyed after accepting the global lender’s prescription. The no-subsidy recommendation for agriculture came from the same organisation. “They want us to beg. They want us to continue as guinea pigs …. But we don’t take alms; we take loan and return it with interest.” She also observed that being one of its partners, Bangladesh had the right to know if the WB’s account was audited regularly and if it had any balance sheet. The bank should also disclose what its officials did and how they spent money.

July 10, 2012: BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir claims the names of the prime minister, the finance minister and Syed Abul Hossain were mentioned in the WB letter, which the government denies to disclose.

July 14, 2012: Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleges: “The government has created a craze among people saying that the Padma bridge would be built with local financing. The election is nearing and the Awami League government is planning to collect money from people’s pockets to contest the election.”

July 15, 2012: Muhith in Sylhet has said that it was possible to build Padma bridge with the government’s own funds though it would be difficult. “The construction work will start this fiscal year. And our own financing may not be necessary after the construction work starts since there is a possibility of involvement of various development agencies in the project.” The minister reiterated that there had been no corruption in the project.

July 15, 2012: The WB has said the government may disclose the Bank’s reports containing “evidence of corruption” in the Padma bridge project for the sake of transparency and public interest. “But the WB cannot itself disclose the reports because it has an obligation to each member country — including Bangladesh — to maintain all referral reports confidential,” according to the WB country director as reported by The Daily Star report based on an email.

July 15, 2012: In response to journalists query on whether the government would make public the World Bank reports containing “evidence of corruption” in the Padma bridge project, the finance minister has said that the government does not believe in character assassination.

July 16, 2012: The cabinet decides to open two bank accounts to collect donations from public who are intending to contribute to the bridge project fund. One account will be opened for local currency while another for foreign exchanges.

July 16, 2012: The finance minister has said that the government was going to formulate a new financing structure for providing fund and implementing the bridge project. Meanwhile, the government has been continuing talks with the Bank. Muhith also says the money contributed by people to the bridge fund voluntarily will be deposited in a consolidated fund and it will be spent in the Padma bridge project through budget.

July 17, 2012: Muhith announces that no one has been assigned to collect money from people for the construction of the Padma bridge. His comment comes a day after an activist of pro-Awami League student body Chhatra League died in a gunfight between rival factions at Rajshahi University over fund collection for the bridge.

July 23, 2012: Syed Abul Hossain resigns as the ICT minister, two days after he in an open letter to the countrymen hinted about the resignation for the interest of the country.

July 23, 2012: Muhith calls the JICA president and requests him to raise the Padma bridge issue with the World Bank during his visit with the WB chief on July 25, provided that the government took some steps on a vital WB condition.

July 23, 2012: Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir says the resignation corroborates the corruption conspiracy of the government alleged by the WB. “Now through the resignation of Abul, there is a chance that the World Bank would reconsider its decision of pulling out of the funding for the Padma bridge project.” He maintained that it would be better for the country if the bridge was constructed with the WB funding.

July 24, 2012: State minister for Ministry of Science and Technology Yeafesh Osman is given additional charge of ICT ministry following the resignation of Syed Abul Hossain.

July 24, 2012: Muhith says, “A few government officials have already been asked to go on leave. Gazette notifications on this will be published in a day or two. Abul Hossain has stood down. This is an unusual step… We will still try to accommodate the World Bank’s proposals so that the lending agency releases the funds for the bridge.” He says he is hopeful that the WB would now release funds as Abul is gone.

compilation: Probir Bidhan

Comments are closed.