Padma Bridge: Will it ever be completed?

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Raiyan  Syed, Economic Correspondent Shottobani

                                                                                                                                            A Canadian court recently dropped charges against three men, two of who were former senior executives from global engineering consultancy firm SNC-Lavalin.

The three men were accused of conspiracy to bribe government officials in Bangladesh in order to win a multi-million dollar consultancy project on the construction of the Padma Bridge.

The Padma Bridge project consists of a 6.15km highway across the Padma River connecting Dhaka with the southwest region of the country. When complete, analysts have estimated the economic multiplier effects will singlehandedly boost the country’s GDP by 1.2%

An original funding source for this project was in the form of a $1.2bn loan from the World Bank, however in June 2012 the World Bank announced that it had found widespread corruption involving the funds resource allocation.

It was claimed that executives at SNC-Lavalin made a plea to win the business for their firm and in doing so crossed the boundary in their conversations with Bangladesh government officials. This resulted in the World Bank setting additional covenants to the loan they were due to provide and later found the Bangladesh governments actions in committing to adhere to these covenants as unsatisfactory. Thus ultimately leading to a withdrawal of funds.

In many professions, the action of lobbying for a self-interest cause is perfectly legitimate. Whether that is misconstrued as a ‘high level corruption conspiracy’ is a subjective question to be assessed on a case-by-case basis for the ethics committee. Quid quo pro is an unwritten law is modern barter transactions.

The extra scrutiny imposed on Bangladesh government officials for a crime that there is little publicly available evidence to show they committed has not gone down well with those in Dhaka. It is almost as if lending to third world countries comes pre-packaged with an accusation of mishandling funds. This ruling from the Canadian court has empowered those Bangladeshi institutions involved in their pursuit to clear their names.

Many people in Bangladesh are infuriated by the World Banks actions in what they say has tarnished their reputation and brought into question their integrity.  The allegations of corruption have been dismissed as ‘gossip’ using ‘fabricated evidence’ by Sajeeb Wazed Joy, ICT advisor to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Some have even gone as far as demanding an apology from the World Bank in light of the Canadian courts decision to throw out the case put forward.

Restless arguing and international policing of funding have bureaucratically pushed back the completion of the Padma Bridge, the hope of drawing a line under this episode is neither likely. The big picture does show the vast economic benefits this multipurpose bridge will bring to the country, it is about finding a method to jump over the political hurdles and see through to completion the 1.2% increase in GDP.

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