Padma Bridge ‘graft’ probe gets lost in a maze

Munima Sultana
A clear picture about nature and progress of investigation into alleged corruption involving the Padma Bridge project is yet to be made available, though the World Bank (WB) has reiterated its demand to conduct a probe and hold the wrongdoers accountable.

The World Bank’s Integrity Vice Presidency (INT) shared its second report on the findings of “serious fraud and corruption”, involving one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects, with the Finance Minister in the second week of April, pressing for such a probe, followed by actions against those found guilty

After a month of submission of the INT report, the WB Country Director Ellen Goldstein in a statement Wednesday said when the World Bank finds “serious credible evidence of fraud and corruption” in any of its aided projects, it refers the findings to the national authorities concerned in the member-countries.

“This is the course we pursued in Bangladesh related to the Padma Bridge project, first in September 2011 and again in April 2012,” she cleared saying that the bank expected the authorities to take action, conduct thorough investigation and hold wrongdoers accountable.

However, the government officials, including Economic Relations Division (ERD), said they were not clear as to how the investigation was being conducted by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

Although the WB did not make any comment on the ACC probe report, local WB officials were not clear about further investigations by the government after the one made by the ACC.

The INT handed over its first highly confidential investigation report on the alleged corruption involving the Padma Bridge project to Finance Minister AMA Muhith in Washington on September 21. Based on it, the ACC conducted its investigation and found “no proof” of corruption, as was alleged by the multilateral capital donor.

But the INT stated that the local investigation authorities should use the report only for their own reference, when conducting their investigations and should not cite, or refer to, them in any investigation reports.

An ACC commissioner said they have not received any further request either from the government or from the WB to reinvestigate into the corruption issue related to the Padma Bridge project.

He said the ACC’s other investigation on the allegation of corruption in the selection process of Canadian company SNC Lavalin as the project’s consultant is still underway.

The US $3.0 billion Padma Multi-purpose Bridge project was the present government’s prime electoral pledge which was supposed to be completed before the next general election in 2014.

Though the government signed US$ 1.2 billion loan agreement with the WB on April 27, 2011, the works on the project came to a halt when the Bank raised the graft allegations against the former communications minister for engaging his firm in the work as a “silent agent” in the bidding process of the project.

Since the Bank put funding of the bridge on hold, the government tried to find out an alternative source and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoE) with Malaysia to construct the country’s largest infrastructural project under public-private partnership in April this year.

But the fate of the project remains yet uncertain as experts are in doubts about the possibility of getting enough money from the private sector.

After the WB’s suspension of the disbursement of aid for the project, funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at $615 million, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) at $420 million and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) at $140 million also became uncertain.


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