No graft in Padma bridge project: ACC

The Anticorruption Commission on Thursday said its investigation found no tangible evidence of corruption in the $2.9-billion Padma bridge project. The chief of the antigraft watchdog, Golam Rahman, at a media briefing Thursday announced the end of the enquiry.

But, he said, a Canadian agency is investigating the corruption charges in the selection of consultant.

Canadian authorities on Sep 3 launched investigation into corruption charges against employees of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc, one of the engineering firms bidding on the bridge project, after the World Bank’s anti-graft unit referred its concerns about violations of Canadian law.

Chairman Rahman said the allegation that former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain took money to favour a firm in the preliminary consultant selection process was also found false.

The project to build Bangladesh’s longest bridge ran into troubled waters after the global lending agency blocked funds in October last year claiming that there were corruption in river dredging, appointment of consultants and selection of pre-qualified contractors in the project.

On Oct 17 last year, following the government’s order, ACC assigned its deputy director Jainul Abedin Shibli and assistant director Mirza Zahidul Alam to probe the global money lender’s corruption allegations regarding preliminary selection and appointment of consultants and contractors.

Rahman on Thursday told the media, “The commission does not think that there has been any corruption in the preliminary selections of the project. So, the investigation will not go further.”

The global lending agency is the biggest co-financier of the much-coveted project — it was supposed to lend $1.2 billion to the $2.9-billion project.

The Malaysian government on Tuesday officially expressed its intent to invest in the construction of the bridge after prime minister Sheikh Hasina hinted at refusing the donor’s money if it failed to prove the charges.

During the investigation, the ACC investigators interrogated a few people including Abul Hossain. Even though allegations were levelled against Abul Hossain, he and the Bangladesh government have so far denied the charges.

In an interview with last week, Abul Hossain said that the investigation will prove his innocence.

The ACC chief said they spoke with the members of prequalification evaluation committee on consultant selection for the bridge during the investigation.

Referring to the five consultant firms’ statements on this, he said, “They said nobody demanded money from them for Syed Abul Hossain about landing them the contract for a fixed percentage on the value of the agreement.”

He said that the committee chief Jamilur Reza Chowdhury has confirmed that the evaluation was conducted in line with the World Bank’s regulations.

On appointing the consultants, the ACC chairman said, “We have sent a letter to Canada through the attorney general for information on the issue. We have not received an answer. The investigation on this is ongoing.”

Though the main project got stuck for this investigation process, the government has already 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), if required.

Questioning the World Bank’s action of suspending funds, she had said the government 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.

And following her remarks, the Malaysian government on Tuesday officially expressed its intent to construct the bridge.

The government 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.

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