Sacrifice for the Padma Bridge

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
A Romanian folklore has it that a master builder once decided to sacrifice the first woman who would bring food to the building site. All but one of his men broke their promise and tipped their wives in advance. One man, who was true to his oath, said nothing to his wife. Next day she arrived before others and, bam, she was tied and slaughtered.

Shocking that the Padma Bridge is asking for human sacrifice, it’s more shocking that the “honest” and the “innocent” are falling victims to its interminable horror. The project director and the secretary of the communication ministry were sent home first. Then a “patriotic” minister was asked to resign. Now the inauspicious shadow has grown even longer. Prime minister’s economic adviser may be next in line.

Each victim of the scandal went down screaming his innocence. It’s no surprise the economic adviser should do the same. A notch above, he also challenged the World Bank to prove the allegations against him and give him a chance to defend himself. One has the right to know before being sentenced that what one did was wrong.

But the adviser is barking up the wrong tree. He said he was going to resign if the prime minister asked him to do so. Why? What happened to the old-fashioned conscience when the knowledge of guilt should travel to the guilty faster than the speed of light? He should be the best judge of his own actions. He should know if he has done it. He should know if he has not.

So, why does the prime minister need to be his conscience-keeper? The adviser is an educated man, who has got years of experience working for the government. If he is so confident, he should take the World Bank to the court instead of wallowing in self-pity and leaving his fate in the hands of his boss.

Former US vice-president Hubert Humphrey is credited for saying: “To err is human, but to blame it on someone else is politics.” Ideally, politicians blame it on their opponents but the Padma Bridge is a difficult situation. It’s like a revolution that is devouring its own children. The government has to sacrifice its best men to satisfy a recalcitrant international body, which refuses to negotiate on its list of corruption suspects.

The adviser is right in his claim that the charges against him must be backed by real evidence. But why is he throwing that challenge to the World Bank? He should be doing that to the government if it takes into consideration the unfounded charges and asks him to resign. He should be asking the prime minister why he should go instead of when.

For years to come, people of this country will argue in inventory accounting terms. Was it FIFO, that is First In First Out, or was it LIFO, that is Last In First Out? Were the men asked to resign in order of their involvement, or were they picked in order of convenience?

Many people say the economic adviser’s fate hinges on the deadline of August 31, which is when the commitment of other lending agencies expires. The suspense of the day is whether the economic adviser will resign within this deadline and whether the World Bank will change its mind after he does. It’s a test for the country; it’s also no less a test for the adviser. The country will be disappointed if neither happens. The adviser should be disappointed if his sacrifice is of no importance to the financial gods sitting in Washington.

Modern-day miracle rides on logical conclusion. If the adviser is the last name on the list, his resignation should open doors. But the adviser should resign anyway, if not for corruption but for performance failure. He had the prime minister’s ears and has to take part of the blame for creating this mess between the government and the World Bank. If he didn’t give the right advice, why shouldn’t he go? If the prime minister ignored his advice, why should he stay?

At this point, the fate of the Padma Bridge reminds us of the Bridge of Arta in Greece. The story of human sacrifice during its building gave rise to a customary expression. Whenever there is a needless delay, the Greeks say: “All day they were building it, and in the night it would collapse.”

A bunch of people apparently tried to sacrifice the interest of building a bridge to make some money. The bridge in its turn is seeking revenge, asking for the sacrifice of everyone involved. Meanwhile, who is to blame for the delay in bridge construction?

People have ample time until the next election to give their momentous take on this monumental mistake.

The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.



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