Shamsul Huq Zahid
Nothing can be more amusing than the fight between two multilateral institutions over a trifling matter such as publication of the names of all external lenders, also called development partners, on tender documents of the proposed multi-billion dollar Padma Bridge.
The World Bank (WB), which acts as the coordinator for the expensive yet dream project, wants only its name on the document. But the Asian Development Bank (ADB), another provider of fund to the Padma Bridge project, insists on the inclusion of names of all development partners involved in the project.
The dispute, according to an FE report, has led to the delay in bidding for the construction of the project that the incumbent government is eager to complete within its current tenure and show it as a major achievement to the electorates ahead of next general election.
The electorates, undoubtedly, would be impressed if the proposed Padma Bridge is completed before the next polls. The bridge will connect more than one-fourth of the country’s population with the rest and help boost its gross domestic product (GDP) by nearly 0.6 per cent annually.
The lining up of funds has already taken a lot of time and the latest dispute over the display of names of the external lenders has emerged as yet another threat to the timely completion of the project.
The WB has committed a fund, $1.2 billion, more than the combined contribution of three other development partners— the ADB, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). The ADB, the JICA and the IDB will be providing $615 million, $415 million and $140 million respectively.
Attempts made by the high officials of the Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA) to settle the issue has failed to produce any positive results. The BBA, according to newspaper reports, sent official communications to the local WB office and held meetings with its officials to break the stalemate over the printing of names on the tender documents. But the WB, reportedly, has not budged an inch from its stance on the issue.
Does the WB want the publication of only its name among all development partners because it is providing the major part of the project cost or because it is the coordinating agency?
The position taken by the WB on putting the names of other lenders on the tender documents might be construed by many as silly and unfair.
No doubt, the WB has greater clout and influence globally than other lenders involved in the Padma Bridge project. But development partners, namely, the ADB, the JICA and IDB have also made significant contributions to the development of Bangladesh since its independence in 1971.
The JICA in particular handles the overseas bilateral development assistance of Japan, the single largest bilateral donor for Bangladesh. More importantly, Japan is one of the few countries that generally convert loans, extended to Bangladesh, into grants at some stage.
The IDB is another institution that has been making available funds to Bangladesh for long to help the latter procure a very important commodity, petroleum. It has also provided financial support for the implementation of a number of key development projects, including the Jamuna Bridge.
And the ADB has been a consistent provider of funds from its both soft window—the Asian Development Facility (ADF) — and near hard-term —Ordinary Capital Resources (OCR) facilities.
The implementation of the Padma Bridge project is already behind the schedule for a number of reasons including the delay in signing the deal over the selection of project coordinator, short-listing of companies to be eligible for taking part in bidding for the project. It took more than a year to short-list foreign construction companies.
Yet another delay over a ridiculous matter such as dispute over putting names on the bidding documents has all the potentials to irritate the government policymakers. Such a fracas over a trifling matter is not at all befitting to the international image of the so-called development partners.
Finally, the parties engaged in the row over placement of names on the Padma Bridge bid documents might consider one humble suggestion: let the names of all ‘development partners’ be on the bid documents. But the name of the WB typed in bold characters and points higher than the other three should be at the top! Does the idea sound good? The BBA might knock the WB door to sell the same.