Japan closely watching developments over Padma Bridge

Expect predictable political environment
Japan said Wednesday it is closely watching the developments after the World Bank’s suspension of the loan commitment to the Padma Bridge Project over graft allegations.

“We can only say now we are watching it closely because in our case we are only committed to the construction of the bridge, and the bidding process has not yet started,” new Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Shiro Sadoshima told UNB in an interview at his office.

The World Bank suspended its US$ 1.2 billion funding to Padma Bridge Project over allegation of corruption in the appointment of consultants. Japan has also committed US$ 400 million for the construction of the mega project.

Being pressed on the issue, Ambassador Sadoshima said: “Our commitment is there. At this point, there is nothing more and nothing less than that.”

Replying to a question, he said that shortage of electricity and inadequate infrastructure, etc. are the major impediments to improving business and investment-friendly environment. Japan is willing to make extra efforts to assist the government in these sectors.

Asked about the JICA-funded Metro Rail in Dhaka, the Japanese Ambassador said JICA had conducted a feasibility study on master plan of Dhaka Urban Transport System and “we’re now thoroughly examining the data. We’ve not come to conclusion.”

He admitted that the Bangladesh government has attached priority to the Metro Rail, and said this type of project involves lot of time, planning, design and money.

Asked whether Japan would increase its ODI for Bangladesh, the envoy said: “We are trying our best despite difficult situation of Japan, caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami.”

He said that in May 2011, Japan has committed about $ 670 million ODA loan assistance to Bangladesh, which is about 40 percent increase from the last year.

Asked his comment about political rivalries here over the modus operandi of holding of next general elections, Sadoshima said: “In any country, there may be rivalries between political parties. It’s not unusual. Look at Japan…”

He said that in spite of how fiercely they compete with each other; there must be bipartisan visions for the future development of Bangladesh. “We would like to be of help to expand the common basis.”

He said: “I firmly believe that to ensure a predictable political environment is desirable not only for foreign partners but also for the people of Bangladesh.”

About potential sectors wherein Japanese companies will be willing to invest money, the Ambassador identified the sectors like energy, ICT and environmental technology.

Asked how to reduce Bangladesh’s trade imbalance with Japan, he said Bangladesh’s export to Japan has doubled over the past two years registering $203 million in 2009 to $ 434 million in 2011.

He admitted Bangladesh’s export to Japan is still quite low compared to its import from Japan.

Sadoshima said Japan has taken some measures including the relaxation of the rules of origin of GSP on knit apparel products, which would help narrow the trade deficit.

On cooperation in tackling impact of the changing climate, he said: “We are now working on something (projects) in a limited way. We should first consolidate human resources, then we can design finance mechanism.”

About the possibility of increased number of scholarships for Bangladesh students, the Ambassador said that among the foreign students with Japanese scholarship, Bangladesh ranks the 6th in the world.

Currently, he said some 1,500 Bangladesh students are studying in Japan, which is three times higher than Indian scholarship for Bangladesh students.

Asked about his priorities as new Ambassador to Bangladesh, Sadoshima said that his first priority will be to expand Bangladesh-Japan economic ties through promoting trade and investment, and the second priority is to let as many Japanese as possible to know more about Bangladesh.

“I would like them to understand to a larger extent the richness of Bangladeshi culture,” he said.


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