Delicious Hilsa fish, Bangladeshi Politician and World Bank vs Padma Bridge
The Hilsa of the Padma river is known by the locals to be the most delicious in the world, Padma also a symbol of faith, hope, substance and
sanity for some. The recent scams highlight the government’s struggle to contain subornment, once a mighty river the Padma river is now without
flowing water since World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank cancelled US $ 1.2 Billion Loan to construct the Padma bridge, putting a
big question mark on the future of the bridge.
Padma Bridge is a multipurpose road-rail bridge across the Padma River to be constructed in Bangladesh. When completed it will be the largest
bridge in Bangladesh and the first fixed river crossing for road traffic. It will connect the south-west of the country, to northern and
eastern regions. The total area of land to be acquired and required for its components is 918 hectares. The requisition of land for the
construction yard will be for six years on a rental basis. As per the new design, an additional 144.04 ha has been identified for acquisition,
bringing the total to 1062.14 hectares. This additional land is required because project site lost significant land due to erosion, for
transition structures and due to a change in railway alignment.
The proposed Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project will provide direct connectivity between the central and south western part of the country
through a fixed link on the Padma River at Mawa-Janjira points. The bridge will contribute significantly towards facilitating the social,
economic and industrial development of this relatively underdeveloped region with a population of over 30 million. The area of influence of the
direct benefit of the project is about 44,000 km2 or 29% of the total area of Bangladesh. Therefore, the project is viewed as very important
infrastructure towards improving the transportation network and regional economic development of the country. The bridge has provisions for
rail, gas, electric line and fibre optic cable for future expansion. The two-level steel truss bridge will carry a four-lane highway on the
upper level and a single track railway on a lower level. The project will include 6.15 km long and 21.10 m wide bridge and 15.1 km of approach
roads along with toll plazas and service areas.
Considering the significant socio-economical viability, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency
(JICA) and the Islamic Development Bank initially agreed to be co-financed along with the government of Bangladesh. Project cost is estimated
to be US$3.00 billion. World Bank alone initially agreed funding for the project which was $1.2 billion. World Bank cancelled the Loan to
construct this bridge, putting a big question mark on the future of the bridge.
‘The World Bank has 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’ WB
The World Bank has provided evidence from two investigations to the Prime Minister, as well as the Minister of Finance and the Chairman of the
Anti -Corruption Commission of Bangladesh (ACC) in September 2011 and April 2012. They urged the authorities of Bangladesh to investigate this
matter fully and, where justified, prosecute those responsible for corruption. WB hoped the Government would give the matter the serious
attention it warrants.
The roots of the corruption were spreads up to USA and Canada. In Canada, where SNC Lavalin‘s headquarters are located, after executing
numerous search warrants and a year-long investigation based on a referral from the World Bank, the Crown Prosecution Services brought
corruption charges against two former SNC executives in connection with the Padma Bridge Project. Investigation and prosecution are ongoing but
the court filings to date underscore the gravity of this case.
Due to the fact that WB recognizes the importance of the bridge for the development of Bangladesh and the Region, WB nonetheless proposed to
proceed with an alternative, turnkey-style implementation approach to the project provided the Government of Bangladesh took serious actions
against the high level corruption we had unearthed. It would be irresponsible of the Bank not to press for action on these threats to good
governance and development.
To be willing to go forward with the alternative turnkey-style approach, WB sought the following actions:
(i)place all public officials suspected of involvement in the corruption scheme on leave from Government employment until the
investigation is completed;
(ii) appoint a special inquiry team within the ACC to handle the investigation, and
(iii) agree to provide full and adequate access to all investigative information to a panel appointed by the World Bank comprised of
internationally recognized experts so that the panel can give guidance to the lenders on the progress, adequacy, and fairness of the
WB worked extensively with the Government and the ACC to ensure that all actions requested were fully aligned with Bangladeshi laws and
WB proposed that when the first bids would be launched, the Bank and the co-financiers would decide to go ahead with project financing if they
had determined, based on the Panel’s assessment, that a full and fair investigation was under way and progressing appropriately.
In an effort to go the extra mile, WB sent a high-level team to Dhaka to fully explain the Bank’s position and receive the Government’s
response. The response was not satisfactory.
The World Bank can’t, should not, and will not turn a blind eye to evidence of corruption. WB has both an ethical obligation and a fiduciary
responsibility to shareholders and IDA donor countries. It is WB’s responsibility to make sure IDA resources are used for their intended
purposes and that WB’s only finance a project when WB have adequate assurances that they can do so in a clean and transparent way. In light of
the inadequate response by the Government of Bangladesh, the World Bank has decided to cancel its $1.2 billion IDA credit in support of the
Padma Multipurpose Bridge project, effective immediately.
Where as Finance Minister AMA Muhith on Wednesday 19th December said to reporters after a meeting of the purchase committee held at the cabinet
division, he believes that no corruption took place in Padma bridge project and construction of the much-talked about bridge would start within
the government’s tenure. He added “At least the work of laying foundation stone would start and some construction work would also be stared
during the tenure of the government,”
On the other hand the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has launched its drive to arrest the seven accused sued for corruption conspiracy in the
much-hyped Padma Bridge project after getting green signal from government. “It is a very sensitive case. So, that we’re considering it
seriously and have already ordered our team to arrest the graft accused in the case,” ACC commissioner M Shahabuddin told reporters while
leaving his office on Wednesday 19th.
He also mentioned that the Commission also asked the team to take proper action and seek cooperation from the law enforcing agencies in
averting all kinds of hindrances in hooking them up so that the accused cannot leave the country.
In addition to that the commissioner said the ACC has already sent the copy of the first information report (FIR) to the World Bank to assess
The ACC already filed a case against seven people for their alleged involvement in corruption conspiracy in the country’s biggest
infrastructure project. ACC deputy director Abdullah Al Zahid filed the FIR against them with Banani Police Station in the city.
The accused in the case are former secretary of Bridge Division Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, superintending engineer (River engineering) of
Bangladesh Bridge Authority Kazi M Ferdous, executing engineer (Bridge construction and maintenance) of Roads and Highways Department M Riaz
Ahmed Zaber, deputy managing director of Engineer and Planning Consultant Limited (EPC) Mohammad Mustafa, former director (International
project division) of SNC Lavalin Inc Mohammad Ismail, former vice president (International project division) of SNC Lavalin Ramesh Shah and
former vice-president of SNC Lavalin Kevin Wallace.
Only three out of seven accused, Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, Kazi M Ferdous and Riaz Ahmed Zaber are currently in the country. Mohammad Mustafa,
local agent of SNC Lavalin, fled abroad and the remaining three — Mohammad Ismail, Ramesh Shah and Kevin Wallace (all are Canadian nationals)
– are living in Canada, ACC sources said.
Shahabuddin also said that they are to decide the next course of action how the foreign citizens could be brought under the trial process. He
said the Commission has also sent a letter to the Home Ministry to strengthen the watch and vigilance of the law enforcing agencies so that the
accused cannot flee the country.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has kept watch on former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain and former state minister for foreign
affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury. “The investigators have kept watch on them,” ACC Commissioner Mohammad Badiuzzaman on Thursday told reporters
when asked about steps over the two former ministers whose names were mentioned in the case statement filed for Padma bridge graft conspiracy.
Whereas Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina said to Journalists in London on 27th July 2012 that Mr. Abul Hossain was a patriot and had stepped down
voluntarily to pave the way for construction of the long-cherished Padma bridge. Hasina also said Abul had shown courage by resigning even
though the World Bank could not provide any “concrete evidence of his involvement in corruption”.
“He has guts, he has patriotism � that’s why he could resign,” “How many people in the past have shown such courage by tendering resignation
over fictitious allegations? You should appreciate this,” she added.
However, It was the second time Syed Abul Hossain resigned as a minister. He had been forced to resign as state minister for the LGRD ministry
in August 1997 over a controversy for using a private passport instead of a diplomatic book.
“Yes, I am on watch. What was the problem? I am an honest, transparent and holy man. I am on Allah’s watch,” former communications minister
Syed Abul Hossain told the daily Prothom Alo.
Finally ACC agreed to send a team to Canada to quiz the three Canadian citizens who were sued along with four Bangladeshis on December 17 in
the Padma bridge graft conspiracy case. The team will go there after the ACC gets permission from the Canadian government.
Though Prime minister Sheikh Hasina responded by removing Abul Hossain from the communication ministry. Instead he is now a cabinet minister
for Information and Communication Technology. Abul Hossain is a small man with deep pockets who is a self-proclaimed holy man. Whereas he was
accused for asking for bribes from two executives of Canadian construction giant SNC Lavalin Al Jajeera said.
The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank announced that they would pull out of the project because of credible evidence of corruption, but
corrupt politicians are nothing new although the World Bank’s decision to pull out of a loan is unprecedented.
All of those come as no surprise to the people living on the banks of the Padma River. It takes two hours to travel across the six kilometres
river. The currents are strong and the boat is overloaded with people. As the boat rocked from side to side but still people crossing the river
day and night, that is the life of the people lives other side of the river. Only Allah knows how long we have to wait for a Padma Bridge and
corruption free politicians.