The World Bank’s latest position on funding Padma bridge, the country’s biggest infrastructure project, may be known on Wednesday, according to sources in the finance ministry.
The speculation got muscle after World Bank country director to Bangladesh Ellen Goldstein returned to the capital on Tuesday. She had gone to the Washington head office to discuss the funding issue with the bank’s top-level officials.
Goldstein is scheduled to meet finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith on Wednesday morning and is expected to disclose the World Bank’s position on the funding issue, sources from the ministry and World Bank’s Dhaka office said.
The project to build Bangladesh’s longest bridge ran into trouble after the World Bank suspended funds last October following allegations of corruption.
The global lender is the biggest co-financier of the much-coveted project — it was supposed to lend $1.2 billion to the $2.9-billion project.
World Bank’s Dhaka office spokesperson Mehrin Ahmed Mahmud, however, was tightlipped on the fund issue. Asked about the World Bank’s position on funding Padma bridge, she told bdnews24.com on Tuesday evening, “She (Goldstein) is taking rest. She did not discuss anything about it with me.”
Confirming Goldstein’s return, Mehrin said: “She has returned after attending a meeting in Washington with the bank’s high-level officials and after spending her Christmas vacation. She is supposed to hold a meeting with the finance minister on Wednesday.”
Project co-financier Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) country-director Thevakumar Kandiah had told bdnews24.com on Jan 4 that Goldstein had gone to Washington to discuss the “Padma bridge (project) at the head office”.
“All stakeholders of the Padma bridge will sit after Jan 12 when she returns; we will reach a decision then,” Kandiah had said.
BRIDGE IN TROUBLED WATERS
The bridge at Mawa-Jajira is the biggest ever infrastructure project in Bangladesh. It is co-financed by World Bank, ADB, Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The government has signed agreements with World Bank for $1.2 billion loan, Asian Development Bank for $615 million, JICA for $400 million and IDB for $140 million. The government would put together rest of the fund.
The World Bank, coordinator of the four lending agencies, suspended funding following allegations of corruption in river dredging, appointment of consultants and selection of pre-qualified contractors in the project.
The government and the bank took opposing stands on the issue after the lending agency alleged that the then communications minister, Syed Abul Hossain, was engaged in extortion in the project.
But Hossain was recently removed and replaced by Obaidul Quader as the communications minister, apparently in a bid to pave way for getting necessary finance for the project.
The government has to date spent approximately Tk 1 billion on the project — for land acquisition, resettlement and compensation, setting up a service area, and preparing the bridge design.
The project was initially set for a 2014 completion.
While the air was still not clear over the World Bank funding, prime minister Sheikh Hasina had on Dec 10 last year announced that the project would be executed under the public-private partnership (PPP) model, if required.
Questioning the World Bank’s action of suspending funds, she said, “We will approach other countries (for funding and construction of the bridge) and hold government-level talks with whichever country comes forward to fund the project. No matter which country funds the project, they will get their money back.”