Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Shuffle may unfurl Padma bridge'

Both the finance minister and the World Bank's local representative are sanguine that the complications surrounding Padma bridge may soon be over, now that the 'circumstances have changed'.

A M A Muhith and Allen Goldstein spoke to after a closed-door meeting at Hotel Sonargaon on Wednesday, where they had both gone to attend an ADB event.

Veteran Awami League leader Obaidul Quader took office as the communications minister earlier in the day.

The Canadian government is investigating a Canadian firm for alleged unethical activities in getting the consultancy for Padma bridge project.

World Bank, who raised the allegations, has since suspended its $ 1.2 billion funding for the project.

"Now that the scenario has changed, we are hoping something positive must happen," Muhith said.

Goldstein met Quader in the afternoon and told reporters afterwards that he would be going to Washington to discuss the funding.

After his meeting with Muhith, Goldstein elaborated that he would be explaining Bangladesh's latest stance on Padma bridge to senior World Bank officials.

When asked whether there was some hope of the project being revitalised, he replied with a smile, "I have no updates right now, but we are hoping that something positive may come after I go to Washington."

After attending the ADB event, the two had a closed-door meeting for about 20 minutes.

The proposed 6.15-kilometre bridge was set to be the biggest infrastructure project of the country, together with 3.68km of land-based approach viaducts on both sides of the river. Once built, it will connect 19 southwestern districts with Dhaka.

Initially, the project was planned to be completed by 2014.

The government has already spent around Tk 1 billion over land acquisition, resettlement and compensation, setting up a service area, and preparing the design of the bridge.

Bangladesh also signed agreements to borrow $0.61 billion from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), $0.4 billion from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and $0.13 billion from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to construct the 6.15-kilometre bridge.

Early in October, the World Bank, the coordinator of the four lending agencies, suspended funding the scheme following allegations of corruption in river dredging, appointment of consultants and selections of pre-qualified contractors in the project.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating a Canadian firm, SNC-Lavalin Inc, which had been short-listed for the bridge project's monitoring, for a possible instance of corruption.