Padma negotiation with WB in final stage

Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith has said the government is in the final stages of reaching an agreement with the World Bank to get the global lending agency back on board to fund the Padma bridge project.

He also expressed his hope to make a success of the efforts in this regard within a week.

Speaking with on Saturday at his Minto Road residence in the capital, Muhith said, “All obstacles to reach the agreement are being cleared. I hope the matter will be resolved within one week.”

The Washington-based lender cancelled its promised loan of $1.2 billion for the country’s biggest-ever infrastructure project in June alleging corruption. Although the government later decided to bridge Padma river with its own resources, the Finance Minister has also been trying to bring back the global lender to fund the infrastructure project.

The global lender had spelt out a number of conditions for the government to fulfil after raising the allegations and suspended the fund for the project in September last year after Canadian authorities launched an investigation into SNC-Lavalin, a firm short-listed as a consultant for the project.

The World Bank cancelled the loan on June 30 claiming that the government did not follow their recommendations.

After the deal was scrapped, Information Communications and Technology Minister Syed Abul Hossain, who was the Communication Minister when the allegations were raised, resigned and former Bridges Secretary Mosharraf Hossain was sent on leave.

Meanwhile, several newspapers reported on Saturday that Integrity Advisor of the Padma bridge project and advisor to the Prime Minister Moshiur Rahman was also excusing himself from the project.

Muhith, however, said, “We will call tenders in November if the World Bank returns to the project, and the bridge construction work will begin by April next year.”

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) extended their agreement to fund the project until Aug 31 even after the World Bank cancelled its funding. Bangladesh needs to come to an understanding with the global lender before that.

Muhith said the government did not want to delay any more in inviting tenders once both parties reached an agreement. “We have also received positive response from them (World Bank) in this regard.”

Asked whether a letter would be sent to World Bank to review its decision, he said, “I already have the draft letter. It will be sent after we get a positive response from the other side.”

On Aug 22, he had said, “We will issue the letter when we are sure that our proposal will not be turned down.”

According to the minister, the World Bank’s India-Bangladesh-Nepal’s Executive Director MN Prasad (former Indian Chief Secretary) had taken up the case of Bangladesh with the World Bank.

He also said Bangladesh’s Alternative Director to World Bank Mohammad Tareque was also joining the dialogue.

Of the proposed $2.9-billion project, the World Bank had agreed to provide $1.2 billion while ADB pledged $610 million. The Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank is also to provide $140 million and JICA said it would contribute $400 million to the project.

Before the Eid holidays, Muhith had commented that the allegation the World Bank had raised was tarnishing Bangladesh’s image in the international arena. “We have to recover it (the image). It would be easier to recover it if the World Bank finances (the project).”

Abdur Rahim Harmachi

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