Muhith wants WB in Padma project

Finance Minister AMA Muhith is set for a visit to Washington in February to meet the President of the World Bank to resolve the standoff over the funding of the Padma Bridge.

Talking to journalists at his Secretariat office on Tuesday, Muhith categorically said that it was not possible for the government to start the construction work of the bridge without the funding of the Washington-based global lender .

The Finance Minister said that he had taken the initiative to meet the World Bank President to avoid complications over its promised funding for what was easily Bangladesh’s largest infrastructure development project.

Muhith said that he wants the World Bank in the project to start the construction work early. If the government fails to gain the World Bank funding in the project, it would manage alternative sources of funds, he said.

The minister said that he sought time from World Bank President Jim Yong Kim for discussion and that if he gets the appointment he would go to Washington in early February.

“Our Alternate Executive Director (Dr Mohammad Tarique) in Washington (the World Bank headquarters) has talked with the World bank President. He (Tarique) has said that the World Bank is sincere about the Padma Bridge. We hope that once we meet with him, the problems will be resolved.”

The World Bank, the main financier of the project, suspended its pledged $1.2 billion funding to the $2.9 billion project in September, 2011, after allegations of conspiracy to exchange bribe surfaced in the project.

The implementation of the proposed 6-kilometre-long Padma bridge project became uncertain as the global lender decided to revive the loan after the government agreed to its terms and conditions, including conducting a proper probe into the corruption allegations involving some government officials, including former Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain.

The World Bank now says that it will only consider the funding if satisfied with the investigations into the allegations of corruption.

Later, the global development partner formed a three-member external panel of international experts, headed by Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to review and assess the investigation made by Bangladesh’s Anti Corruption Commission.

The construction of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge, one of the main electoral pledges of the ruling Awami League-led Grand Alliance, now depends very much on the investigation report of the external Panel of the World Bank.

The government has said that if the World Bank fails to give a decision on the project by January, the government would go for alternative sources of fund.

Though the World Bank formally said nothing after the Anti-Corruption Commission finally sued seven persons over Padma Bridge corruption conspiracy to meet World Bank condition for reviving the frozen credits for the project, its external Panel has expressed displeasure over the exclusion of former minister Abul Hossain from the list of accused.

Muhith, who is firm in his stance from the beginning to implement the project with the World Bank funding, said: “We sincerely want to begin the work in association with the World Bank.”

The minister said that any of the three other financiers of the project—the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)––could leave the project once the World Bank pulled itself out of the project.

Muhith said that if such circumstance arose, it would not be possible for the government to begin the construction work within its tenure.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday said that the government was preparing to construct the bridge with its own fund, if necessary. She has also hinted that the country’s largest infrastructure project might go ahead with alternative assistance from China, Malaysia or

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