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Commentary

`World Bank backed out following differences over investigation`

By Editorial Desk
17th-Feb-2017       
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The World Bank should not have withdrawn from a vitally important pro-people project like Padma Bridge after the alleged conspiracy was brought to light. Thereafter the conspiracy could not have worked. We insisted on this view of ours then so that the World Bank remains in charge of the construction of the world's longest bridge. Unfortunate part is for some people it is too easy to misguide the government.

The government should be aware that from the beginning there was a strong lobby not supporting the World Bank. Once the allegation of conspiracy was raised by the World Bank this lobby became hyperactive to find justification to cancel the fund from the World Bank. One has only to recall some of the statements of those days.

There were certainly those who want to gain personally.  Under the World Bank's supervision underhand dealings would have been difficult.

The pressure of China lobby was obvious. The cost of the Padma Bridge Project has gone on rocketing. So the nation is the ultimate loser.

These anti-lobbyists knew that World Bank has accountability and there is a finding of a conspiracy by a probing body of its own. The matter needed to be cleared. The bank's high officials sought cooperation of Bangladesh government. Their urging for joint investigation with Bangladesh government cannot be called unreasonable.

We shall blame the World Bank where it is due. But it is not good for the image of the government or the country to distort facts to shift the blame for the damage to the Padma Bridge Project.

The case record says that in 2012, the ACC had initiated the investigation after a newspaper report about the corruption conspiracy for getting construction contracts of the Padma Bridge. At that time, the WB said it would supply ACC information about the matter that it had in hand.

Three WB representatives who came here to investigate into the allegations met the former ACC Chairman Golam Rahman and two directors general (Md. Badiuzzaman [next chairman] and Shahabuddin Chuppu) at a meeting and requested for a joint investigation with the ACC into the allegation.

Such an honest move was denied by Mr. Anisul Haque [Now Law Minister] as ACC's legal adviser citing 'absence of legal option' to conduct such joint investigation with a foreign agency. The WB representatives put a further proposal to keep a WB team in Dhaka to help the ACC's own investigation. The team members came to Dhaka but again they were barred from playing any role. All these facts are clear from the two press conferences held last week by former Legal Adviser and the Chairman of the ACC.

The WB had never said that corruption has taken place; it came as a whistle blower that it had information that attempts to bribe at some level was at work to win contracts. This conclusion about a conspiracy was given by an enquiry body of the World Bank.

How can one blame WB and ask people for filing lawsuits as the Law Minister suggested against WB for damages when we refused cooperation with the WB in the clearing of the suspicion?

The acquittal of SNC-Lavalin employees in Canadian court relating to a Padma Bridge Project components does not rule out that such conspiracy in Bangladesh has or has not existed. It was about banning a Canadian company from participating in Padma Bridge Project. The Canadian government was probing SNC's bribing cases in projects at that time in Libya, Algeria and Cambodia.

Bangladesh was to get the loan from World Bank so it was necessary for Bangladesh government to be serious in our own interest about involving the World Bank to clear the suspicion of corruption.

Law Minister should not have talked about compensation cases against the World Bank explaining that the World Bank was not above law. Of course, he admitted that the government cannot do so for the immunity the bank enjoys. Not only the legal immunity, our government is also under a contractual obligation not to do so even if there is a valid reason. The most important point is that the World Bank committed no wrong when it was ready for all sorts of cooperation for clearing the clouds of suspicion.

We see there is no scope to file any lawsuit against the global fund lender. But his observation at the same time that "WB is not above the law" and aggrieved persons, who had to bear personal loss of image, can take legal advice to file compensation suits against the WB is equally misleading.

The World Bank was anxious to prove their own findings wrong, if they were wrong, in cooperation with the Bangladesh government. Solution was easy to get the World Bank's cooperation.

If the government wants to be sensible about improving the quality of its perception then it should find out the motive who lingered the crisis with the World Bank most irresponsibly.  

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