FHM Humayan Kabir
The government and the World Bank (WB) are likely to settle the issue centering the put-on-hold situation about disbursement of aid funds for construction of the proposed Padma Bridge project as the chief of the WB office in Bangladesh has already met a top bureaucrat of the relevant ministry in Dhaka, officials said.
The WB country director, Ellen Goldstein, met the Economic Relations Division (ERD) senior secretary Iqbal Mahmood Thursday at the latter’s office and discussed the stasis on the Padma Bridge project, a senior ERD official said.
The official said after more than a month, the government and the Washington-based capital donor have started talks on matters relating to the likely course of things about disbursement of earlier committed funds for construction of the Padma Bridge project that will involve an aggregate cost of US$2.29 billion.
“Both sides have now come forward with an open mind to settle issues on the donor’s fund, the disbursement of which has been put on hold. If every thing goes well, the stalemate on release of the committed aid funds for the project by the WB and three other donors can be resolved,” the official told the FE.
Another official said Finance Minister AMA Muhith instructed the ERD secretary Wednesday to take appropriate steps for resolving the fund disbursement problem with the WB.
Consequent upon this instruction, the ERD is trying to resolve the issue with the multilateral capital donor, requesting the WB formally to give a time-limit for its (WB’s) final decision on the financing of the Padma Bridge project.
When asked, Ms. Goldstein Thursday declined to talk to the media on the Padma Bridge issue.
She, however, said they have discussed the ongoing projects in Bangladesh in a bid to help expedite their implementation.
The proposed Padma Bridge is one of the 34 on-going projects of the WB in Bangladesh.
ERD secretary Mr Mahmood also declined to say anything about the Padma Bridge project.
He said that they have discussed the overall situation about project implementation of the WB-aided projects in Bangladesh.
Ms Goldstein said: “The Local Consultative Group (LCG) co-chair, the ERD secretary and myself will hold a plenary meeting soon for expediting the process of project execution.”
Earlier, the government said that it could cancel the loan agreement with the WB in order to confirm an alternative financing arrangement for it from a Malaysian state-owned company to help construct Bangladesh’s latest 6.15-kilometre bridge project over the Padma.
The WB early last year signed the $1.2 billion loan deal with the government as part of its funding for constructing the $2.9 billion Padma Bridge, which will connect Bangladesh’s south-western region with the central zone including Dhaka.
Besides, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has confirmed $615 million, Japan, $420 million and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), $140 million for the Padma Bridge project.
The World Bank in September last put on hold the disbursement of fund for the project on alleged grounds of corruption and stated it would give its next decision upon completion of related investigations by the government of Canada.
Finance minister AMA Muhith early this month said the government was looking for alternative sources of funds for constructing the Padma Bridge project.
He, however, said the Malaysian offer to build the bridge on build-own-operate and transfer or public-private partnership basis would be costlier than the loans offered by the WB and other donors.
Communications minister Obaidul Quader stated then that the government would start construction work of the project within the last two years’ time, before the next general election under the periodic electoral cycle.