PADMA BRIDGE FUNDING
Govt free to look for new sources: WBStaff Correspondent
Bangladesh government is free to look for alternative funding options for the Padma Bridge project. World Bank’s outgoing country director Ellen Goldstein said on Saturday.
The government is always free to look for a new investor, she told a news briefing while commenting on a recent statement by finance minister AMA Muhith regarding revival of WB credit for the stalled project.
She held the news briefing at the end of a review of WB’s country assistance worth US $4.3 billion for 33 ongoing projects in Bangladesh.
The four-hour review exercise was dominated by Padma Bridge, the construction of which was stalled after WB scrapped $1.2 billion in credit for the project following unresolved allegation of ‘conspiracy of corruption’ in selecting construction supervisors.
Most of the secretaries of the government and its project directors took part in the review with WB functionaries.
Governance issues and lack of integrity of politicians and government functionaries led WB to scrapping the credit line and in evaluating other projects.
Ellen, who completes her three-year tenure in Bangladesh on January 31, said in the opening session in the morning that people were tired of seeing misuse of public funds.
People know that integrity of politicians and public servants can really the change the tone of all development activities in Bangladesh.
She called it a long term challenge for Bangladesh.
The tough stance taken by WB on the Padma bridge project graft, she said, earned praise from the general people in the country she met here and there.
She said she would be remembered for her association with the Padma Bridge project.
Muhith said on Thursday that the government wanted a WB decision this month on lifting the suspension of the fund.
H said the government would look for other options for the 6.1 km rail-cum-road bridge project if WB failed to clear its position by January on the issue.
WB suspended the $1.2 billion credit line in June 2011.
In September 2012, WB agreed to revive the loan only if ACC carried out credible investigation into the conspiracy for corruption in choosing construction supervisors.
Ellen said it was difficult to say when the ongoing review by an external panel into ACC’s probe into the corruption of the bridge project would be completed.
‘You know the panel already made queries from the ACC about its First Information Report and fair probe,’ she said.
The external panel recently expressed doubts about fair probe by ACC into the graft allegations after prime suspect former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain was excluded from its FIR.
Taking part in the review, ERD additional secretary Arastoo Khan said withdrawal of credit suspension would provide a ‘silver lining’ for WB funded projects.
However, WB’s senior operations officer Lisandro Martin pointed out that Padma Bridge project was excluded from the review as the bridge construction was yet to start.
Referring to the finding by Transparency International he said governance issues nosedived in Bangladesh since 2011.
ERD secretary Abul Kalam Azad urged WB to expedite the process of project approval and fund disbursement.
He said it took 140 days for a particular project to get WB approval.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, presented the findings as third party reviewer of WB’s country assistance programme.
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