Padma Bridge Scandal: Is it ‘corruption’!!!

What is corruption?

This question has become a crucial one these days after the revealation of Padma Bridge “corruption conspiracy” by a Canadian media in August last year on a raid in SNC Lavalin office over bribing for the bridge project upon a call from the World Bank, the lead financier of the country’s largest bridge.

Soon the World Bank came up with a report on the matter. But the government has ever since denied the allegation saying “no transaction, no corruption”, “it’s a conspiracy by vested quarters eg Dr Yunus”, “Abul is a patriot”, “WB itself is corrupt” while the three top suspects — PM’s advisor Mashiur Rahman, minister Syed Abul Hossain and secretary Mosharraf Hossain — have been claiming themselves “as clean as holy”.

Mosharraf HossainMeanwhile, the WB submitted the second report in April and asked the govt to take action against the accused — at least 10 people.

But the govt kept denying and dodging taking up punitive measures until the last week of June this year when the WB cancelled the loan agreement with Bangladesh.


Cartoon: Sadat/The Daily Star
Cartoon: Sadat/The Daily Star

The immediate reaction was not praiseworthy — Muhith said it was the outgoing chief’s personal decision, Hasina slammed the WB in parliament citing their ill-motivated prescriptions added with loan as conditions. She also declared that the bridge would be built by own funds — from budget and people — or Malaysian money, whatever, anyhow. She, however, changed her minds few months later, but didn’t explain why!

In the meantime, Muhith and PM’s advisor Gowher Rizvi were discussing the matter with the WB and other financiers — JICA, ADB, IDB — to revive the loan agreement and were bargaining over the ‘punitive action’ issue.

Meanwhile, the accused were still claiming that they were clean and everyone claimed there were “no corruption” in the project since there was no transaction made and the ACC said there was no tangible evidence provided by the WB — a view the anti-graft body ACC made in February declaring Abul “clean“.

The toothless ACC has showed its “efforts against corruption” by asking over 30 suspects warmly to appear at its office for some chitchats and for giving them a chance for defending themselves.

But the commission couldn’t be stricter due to pressure, I understand, but I wonder, the chairman, Ghulam Rahman, hasn’t resigned yet.

The dubious role of the govt high-ups has harmed the compromise process maintained by the finance minister initiated just after the annulment of the agreement that hit the ruling party badly only to worsen its image at home and abroad.

So the AL has always tried to establish the “conspiracy theory“.

Even on Wednesday, Muhith said there was “no corruption in the project” and so the two former ministers — Syed Abul and Abul Hossain Chowdhury — were not implicated in the case filed by the ACC a couple of days ago against 7 persons including Mosharraf and 2 foreigners. Muhith said it was not “corruption” because the ministers just held talks with the Lavalin agents and it couldn’t be labelled as “corruption in Bangladesh”!

The same day, PM said there have been conspiracy against the govt to malign its successes through some acts!

Well! What’s “corruption“, btw?

The ACC on Thursday said justice would be ensured in their investigation and the trial, and that the location of the 7 officials must be identified as they have gone into hiding through the Interpol. The two ministers are under watch as their names are mentioned in the case as “suspects in a corruption conspiracy”.

moshiurBtw, where’s PM’s advisor Mashiur Rahman? Oh, he’s on leave. The ACC couldn’t prove his “direct link” with the “conspiracy”. Will the WB be happy with this much?

How about Syed Abul’s SAHCO Enterprise officials?

NOTE: Speaker Abdul Hamid on Wednesday said the country could build one Padma Bridge every year with the “graft money”!!!



    The ending of World Bank finance

    For non-compliance with its conditions the World Bank has decided to take its hands off from financing the 6.15km Padma Bridge at an estimated cost of $2.9 billion. Earlier, the Bangladesh government had withdrawn its request for the Bank’s fund. The co-financing organisations, ADB and JICA, have also withdrawn from the project. The IDB is reported to have followed suit.
    In the backdrop of the above scenario the finance minister, on February 4, declared in Parliament: “We will start construction of the Padma Bridge within this fiscal and we will complete implementation of the project from our own resources within three and a half years.” He said that Tk.243.94 billion ($3.05 billion) would be required for the completion of the bridge in its present design, road and railway link. Of the total cost, $1.80 billion foreign currency component will be utilised from the country’s foreign currency reserve.
    The minister said: “We will require raising the current year’s allocations for the bridge project. Besides, a massive revision in the yearly fund allocations for the bridge project in the coming three years will also be needed. We have to cut some expenditure from other development sectors of the country and revise our revenue income further to complete the bridge construction.” The minister further added that “the government has to raise domestic revenue income, foreign aid inflow and foreign direct investment for ensuring money for the bridge project.”
    I strongly feel that the government, to fulfill the “election commitment,” should not take the hasty and emotional decision to finance the multibillion dollar Padma Bridge project from our resources. As the nation has a dream to become a ‘mid-level income group’ country by 2020, the government ought to review the status of the following major socio-economic indicators which are keeping the national development wheel moving even during the current world economic slowdown:

    Agriculture: Agriculture, which contributes over 18% to the GDP, is still dependent on the hegemony of nature. One crop failure may put back the country’s economic growth;

    Dependence on import: As an import dependent country we have to import capital machineries and almost every consumer good. The current reserve of $12.85 billion can finance only about 4 months’ import bills of the country;

    Inflation and unemployment: There is over 8% annual inflation and almost the same rate of unemployment, with about 40% of the 77 million labour force being underemployed. To create employment opportunities for the growing work force the country needs to invest in more development projects;

    Export and import: Last year’s export was worth $25.79 billion and the import figure stood at $35.60 billion. For not maintaining the labour standards, as asked for, the extension of US GSP facility is under review. Because of Canada’s withdrawal of GSP facilities from some countries, our exports to Canada are going to be less attractive to Canadian buyers;

    Foreign remittance: Average foreign remittance received from approximately 7.5 million work force abroad is about $14 billion, which showed a growth of 10.26% last year. Because of the political turmoil in the Middle East there are uncertainties about intake of more labour force in those countries. As reported in local media, about 20,000 workers may have to come back from the UAE. Moreover, due to the worldwide economic slowdown, recruitment of workers by western countries might be few and far between;

    Inadequate and weak infrastructure: Improvement and development of the weak and inadequate infrastructure needs urgent investments to keep the country’s economic development going. To attract more local and foreign investment, the country needs to invest billions of dollars for improvement and development of gas, electricity and roads. The example of Dhaka-Chittagong Highway, the lifeline of our economy, is enough to explain the country’s infrastructure condition. Due to the narrowness and bad condition of the road, traffic queues of miles are a regular feature. For a 4/5 hour journey, it sometimes takes even 10 to 12 hours for a truck to reach Chittagong port from Dhaka. In such a situation, can we think of diverting funds from Dhaka-Chittagong development project to finance the Padma Bridge, for which we can explore other favourable financing alternatives?

    Poverty level: About 47 million people in the country are still below the poverty line. To pull this population above poverty level the country has to ensure annual GDP growth rate of above 6% for years to come. Because of diversion of investments from development projects the country might not be able to achieve the required growth rate, which means less investable funds for poverty reduction and in turn increase in the poverty level;

    The national election: During the next national election unproductive expenditure of billions of taka will take place. This will further aggravate the inflationary pressure on the national economy;

    Local and foreign investment: Because of the pre-election political uncertainties accompanied by shortages of gas and electricity, both domestic and foreign investments will be very little until mid-2014;
    The recent Russian $1billion hard-term loan at 4.5% interest against defence purchase and $500 million for nuclear project feasibility study must also be borne in mind before deciding to finance the Padma Bridge from our own resources. All the above socio-economic indicators strongly suggest that the government ought to take recourse to other favourable financing alternatives from among the available proposals instead of investing from our national resources to finance the Padma Bridge.

    The writer is a former Transport Consultant, Tehran Department of Transport, Iran.


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