Sept. 21: The World Bank has revived a $1.2-billion loan for a corruption-hit bridge in Bangladesh after persuading the government to accept sweeping conditions that included the removal of a minister and advisers to the Prime Minister.
The successful imposition of the stunning terms is expected to have implications in the rest of the sub-continent that depends on multilateral lending agencies for projects, which are often dogged by corruption charges.
“The Bank has agreed that, upon satisfactory implementation of the agreed measures by the government (against corruption), and with the support of the Bank’s governing bodies, the Bank will engage anew in the Padma multipurpose bridge,” the World Bank said in a statement.
The announcement came almost three months after the agency suspended the line of credit for the 6.2-km game-changing bridge, which would cut travel time sharply, over “credible evidence” of high-level corruption.
Dhaka also announced a probe but the World Bank will also send its team to join the investigation. The Bank statement today said it would remain “vigilant to any signs of corruption and our determination to take a strong line against wrongdoing will never waver”.
The Bank had been insisting on the ouster of communications minister Syed Abul Hossain and two key officials, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s economic affairs adviser Mashiur Rahman and bridge department secretary Musharraf Hossain.
Hasina was initially reluctant to remove Syed Abul Hossain but eventually did so. The two officials have been sent on leave. “The Bank understands that all government employees and officials alleged to have been involved in corrupt acts… have been put on leave…”, the statement said.
The agency had called off the loan on June 29 saying the government did not respond “in an expected manner to their complaint about the high-level corruption conspiracy” involving Bangladeshi officials, executives of a Canadian firm and others.
The Bank said a private entity owned by minister Abul Hossain had approached SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian infrastructure company, and offered to get it the supervisory contractor’s job in exchange for a “commission”. The agency had added that no money had actually changed hands.
In India, Lavalin’s name had figured in a corruption case involving Kerala CPM secretary Pinarayi Vijayan when he was state power minister in the 1990s.
Other international agencies had also choked off funds to Bangladesh after the World Bank crackdown. These institutions included the Asian Development Bank ($615 million), Japan International Co-operation Agency ($400 million) and the Islamic Development Bank ($140 million).