Wednesday, 6 July, 2022
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Dream Padma Bridge

Padma Bridge: World Bank’s allegation and present reality

Syed Abul Hossain

Padma Bridge, which is now visible, is the best gift of Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to the nation. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina envisioned the building of the bridge over the mighty river Padma for the people of the South-west part of the country. She had aroused the desire for such a bridge among her countrymen. Now she has fulfilled that dream by constructing the Padma Bridge. However, the bridge would have been constructed by December 2013 had not the initial momentum of construction process that I kick-started been hampered. It has been delayed by nine years only because of the conspiracy of the World Bank and some other foreign and local vested quarters. Ultimately, the dream Padma Bridge has now become a reality thanks to the bold and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The Padma Bridge is a symbol of our pride. It is a symbol of our capacity and self-confidence. As an architectural and engineering wonder, the bridge is a symbol of our honesty, an exquisite revenge for insult and a cut-throat response to conspirators. As a nation, our self-confidence has increased. The bridge will bear testimony to the golden history of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s honesty and courage. I congratulate Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for presenting us such a historic infrastructure defying local and foreign conspiracy. The World Bank’s allegation of so-called corruption regarding construction of Padma Bridge was not only absolutely false and baseless, but also entirely politically motivated. It was purely based on wishful thinking and rumor.

The saga stemmed from a dangerous but purely selfish and self-serving perspective. When the World Bank failed to appoint their favored contractor, they started hatching various conspiracies. We wanted to complete the construction work by December 2013. But the agenda of the World Bank was to defer it, so that our government cannot complete it within its tenure. It was apparent from various speeches and activities of the then representative of the World Bank in Dhaka Ms Goldstein that they didn’t want the bridge to be built within the tenure of the AL government. So they started procrastinating on the Padma Bridge construction project by raising baseless allegations, so that the next government can complete it and take the credit.

I faced allegation of corruption in Padma Bridge project. Later, such allegation was proved to be false. In the true sense of the term, allegation of corruption in Padma Bridge was a factitious and ill-motivated. It was a byproduct of a deep-rooted conspiracy. When the conspirators tried to establish the corruption allegation like Joseph Goebbels, I requested Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to change my portfolio. The premier knew well that no corruption was committed. The allegation was premature and absurd prior to appointment of any construction firm, agreement and disbursement of money. The subsequent story was known to all. The allegation was disproved by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Bangladesh. Besides, an Ontario Superior Court of Justice Court rejected a case against some high-ups of SNC-Lavalin, a firm was connected to the project, for not having authenticity of the allegation. It put an end to controversy over my involvement in the irregularity. The Canadian court gave me a clean chit based on my innocence. To construct a bridge on the Padma River was one of the main poll manifestos of Awami League government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

I concentrated on the issue from my first day at office as communications minister. I initiated process to appoint consultant, invite tender for consultant, and pre-qualification tender for the main structure. Besides, I took step to sign deal with the World Bank, JICA, Islamic Development Organization and ADB. Within a short span of time, I completed land acquisition and was close to compensation and rehabilitation of the affected landowners. Even, I was done with pre-qualification tender. I finished the pre-construction stages within two years although it took 10 years for others to be completed. I was determined to construct the bridge by 2013 and expedited necessary works accordingly.

The World Bank was coordinator of all donor agencies. So, every stage went through monitoring and approval of the WB. Technical Committee led by National Prof Dr Jamilur Reza Choudhury made much progress as to appointment of construction firm and consultant. In utter surprise, the WB requested for discarding a pre-tender qualifying firm for being blacklisted by the global lender and qualifying a disqualified bidder. The authorities refused to accept the disqualified bidder which produced fake experience certificate. But the WB repeatedly insisted on qualifying the bidder. As the Technical Committee rejected such requests, the WB started to obstruct the project in various ways. It raised false allegation of corruption to cause delay in the construction.

Failing to implement its bid, the global lender resorted to various lies and dishonest measures. The World Bank started to spread propagandas against me. With the help of local agent of the said prequalified bidder and newspapers, the WB tried to establish its claim. During the 1/11 critical time, the WB got series of reports published questioning sources of money in buying my vehicle, renovating my office and constructing house at my ancestral place in Kalkini. The reports were translated into English and news clippings were sent to the headquarters of the WB.

This is how the WB tried to put my integrity on jeopardy. The then Country Director of the World Bank Ellen Goldstein at a dinner party asked me to go slow with Padma Bridge project. Pakistani origin coordinator of the project was belied to be involved in the conspiracy. The WB did not fund the bridge despite my resignation as communications minister. The global lender created undue pressure on the government to remove me from the ministry. To substantiate the claim, WB sent a three-member expert panel led by Luis Moreno Ocampo. After coming to Dhaka, Ocampo held meeting with some editors and people. The incident is an open secret. Despite the hype, Ocampo failed to show any evidence to Anti-Corruption Commission. Yet, the WB pressurized the government to arrest me, the then Prime Minister’s economic affairs adviser Dr Mashiur Rahman and Bridges Division secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan. It repeatedly requested the then finance minister to remove me from the communications ministry. Legal action could not be taken against me as the WB failed to prove its allegations. However, I resigned as a minister in the interest of the country.

The global lender cancelled funding notwithstanding my resignation from the ministry. Withdrawal of funding was a great mistake and foolishness on the part of the WB. As a result, it lost the opportunity to fund a mega project.

Former President of the World Bank Robert B Zoellick cancelled the funding unilaterally without approval of the issue from the board. Most of the officials of the WB were against cancellation of funding.

In a program of Boao Forum for Asia, I happened to meet Robert B Zoellick who regretted withdrawal of funding. It seemed to me he took such decision under the influence of other people. The WB had raised the blame of cancelling fund due to the faults of some high-ups including Zoellick. I think the WB will not get opportunity to fund a mega project like Padma Bridge in the next 100 years.

Where are Robert B Zoellick, Ellen Goldstein and Luis Moreno Ocampo now?  Ocampo is reportedly accused of committing corruption. He made headlines in international newspapers for corruption after his pretension of honesty in Bangladesh.

The WB withdrew the funding based on the negative report submitted by expert panel head Luis Moreno Ocampo. In irony of fact, Ocampo has appeared as a great dishonest person. As many as 40,000 documents as to his corruption have been leaked. But his negative report maligned Bangladesh internationally and questioned my integrity. The WB undertook investigation into me at the behest of Ocampo and did not find any fault. Now, the WB is ashamed of its fund withdrawal. It expressed repentance to me. But Ocampo and his associates have turned into detestable characters globally. Some people in Bangladesh were hand in glove. A former commissioner of the ACC made statement on the local involvement. Allah is almighty. The truth has unfolded. I am found to be innocent. It was not wise on the part of WB to withdraw funding based on mere surmise of corruption. It stuck to its guns despite my resignation. Such adamancy manifested conspiracy of the WB. The allegation of corruption was baseless, absurd, imaginary and ill-motivated.

 A court of Bangladesh rejected a case filed over allegation of Padma Bridge corruption and acquitted all accused of the graft charge. Echoing the view, the Canadian court rejected a case and discharged the accused. A question has been raised as to why the WB made the allegation. In fact, Padma Bridge is a dream project and generating force for further development of Bangladesh. WB, JICA, ADB and Islamic Development Bank promised to fund the bridge. The WB was leading the team of lenders. We completed preparatory stage within two years. We went ahead with every stage getting approval of the WB. The Technical Committee led by Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury completed pre-qualification tender of construction firms and appointment of consultant. The WB gave word to resume funding after my resignation. It did not keep its word. In fact, it was a conspiracy to weaken the vision of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Several reputed newspapers teamed up with the WB in the conspiracy knowingly or unknowingly. A Pakistani origin official of the WB was involved in the conspiracy. It was crystal clear to me that Padma Bridge is targeted by the local and international conspirators. As the WB failed to find fault with prequalification tender and appointment of construction firm, it targeted me and demanded my resignation. I knew well that the WB will not return to funding after my resignation. The advice of Ellen Goldstein to go slow reaffirmed the conspiracy. However, I resigned as the communications minister. My apprehension was true. The global lender was still unmoved. Some clippings of audio conversation and newspaper reports were submitted to the court of Canada. The police of that country investigated into the allegations. Neither police nor court found authenticity of the allegations. Canadian court regarded as gossip. The ACC conducted marathon investigations into the allegation. I appeared before the investigators of the ACC and replied to their queries. The anti-graft watchdog also found me innocent. I can remember the quotation of Sir Henry Wotton that criticism is the brush of cleaning clothes of the noble persons. Now, I am appreciated and hailed across the globe. The Canadian court declared me innocent. However, damage to my reputation, delay in construction of the bridge and financial loss of the country are irreparable. Will WB and the newspapers be able to compensate the damages?

A Japanese consultant after feasibility study recommended a single-decker bridge on the Padma River.  It means the bridges will be divided into three parts, comprising train line in the middle and bus roads on both sides. It was an expensive design. I requested the consultant to make double decker design. I visited Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge of China, Tianjin Grand Bridge, Weinan Weihe Grand Bridge, Beijing Grand Bridge, Beijing-Tianjin Bridge, Hangzhou Bay Bridge, and Runyang Bridge. I also saw 32km long Shanghai East Sea Bridge, 34km Hangzhou Bridge between Ningbo and Shanghai and 32km Shanghai East Sea Bridge connecting deep seaport and Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge which is 16km from the ground.

I have also seen the double-decker bridges of China and South Korea. In several Chinese provinces I visited a good number of double-decker bridges and I have seen those from their construction level. I visited the largest double-decker bridge of the world, Youngsigang of China, Minpu Bridge of Sanghai, Oufenjashan and Tensingjo bridges of Ziangsu province, Benpo Bridge of Seoul in South Korea. While visiting these bridges, I have been able to get a clear conception about double-decker bridges. Double-decker bridges are two-storied bridges. Vehicles will ply the bridges and trains will run below them. It takes less time to build these types of bridges which can be completed fast. The reason is that most of the work of a bridge is done by the tax payers, who build the steel structures from their own factories to fix them in the bridge. I have shared experiences on double-decker bridges with the consultants and others who have their involvement in it. On conclusion of transport ministers' conference in Seoul of South Korea, I sat with concerned officials in Monsel of Hong Kong. The consultant thought my experience as proper and accordingly made drawings and designs. On submission of the entire subject to the Prime Minister, she gave due approval to it. Present Padma Bridge is built following double-decker technology.

While doing preparatory work of Padma Bridge, I have seen the design accepted by Japan. I am not that person who has the technical knowledge--I did not study at BUET, I have studied at Dhaka University. With a searching mind and keenness to learn I visited major bridge areas of the world. Even I have inquired about Panama's Centennial Bridge in North America. It was built for transplantation as pan American highway career which brought into operation in 2004. After the line is “I visited the China Three Gorges Project more than ones. Engineer of many countries including in the USA and the UK, visited the bridge built at the cost of 30 billion US Dollar”

 

I have heard that once former US President Senior Bush along with other world leaders inspected the project on conclusion of the Boao Forum for Asia Conference. While Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was the Leader of the Opposition, I visited one of the best projects of the world at that period. From these visits, I have attained experiences. In that light, I requested the technical committee to include certain matters in the design. Regarding the design, I sat with Design Consultant Maunsell AECOM taking Project Director (PD) Mr Rafiq with me. With them, I talked about my thoughts. Going to Hong Kong I sat in meetings with them. I also talked with them about the technique of quick implementation of the project. I talked about the double-decker bridge steel structure.  I also told them it is possible to complete Padma Bridge within three years if it is built following the style of Uhan. Maunsell, an American citizen of Chinese origin, is one of the best designers of the world.  From him, I got prepared the design and submitted it to the honorable premier which she approved.

 

I gave a proposal to prepare the structural design in such a manner so that the bridge is not affected by earthquake. In that case, I requested to take help of Japanese experts because Japanese engineers are quake-tolerant design experts.  In light of my experience, I asked Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury to keep the provision of concrete foundation in case soft soil sphere comes instead of hard soil. If a sphere of soft soil comes, it can be turned into concrete by applying chemicals. I also cited the Chinese example.

As per my assumption, it was seen that hard soils was not available in its depth, liquid soil is not fit for piling. What is to be done--regarding this the Korean Supervision Consultant was not that much experienced. Then the present contractors, who were experienced in construction activities, the advised for using chemicals to harden soil for the purpose of piling work. I heard that they proposed for eight piles instead six piles. Their advice was similar to my one. But the Korean consultant did no listen to the bidders. The consultant spent two years in name of study. Ultimately, advice of the designer of Maunsell-AECOM was followed and accordingly, chemical was used through Screen Grouting procedure. Seven piles instead of six piles were used.  We have built Padma Bridge with our own resources--it is a pride. However, it is also true that we have not that much money. For construction of Padma Bridge, we have to reschedule lots of investments. When the World Bank deserted us then I had a plan to build Padma Bridge through Design Built Financing. To this effect, I submitted a summery to the honorable PM. She gave the approval. But the Finance Minister adopted various techniques to bring back the World Bank. Had it been possible to build Padma Bridge through Design Built Financing then the pressure on public money would have been lessened. The cost would have been much lesser if the Design Built Financing procedure was followed because, in that case, we could have evaded self-investment.  We could have constructed Padma Bridge through e-Bidders Financing or PPP. 

The country's media published sweeping stories against me based on untrue and false revelation of corruption. Based on anonymous letters, reports were created time and again on the same issue. Depending on newspaper reports, the channels were engaged in spreading falsehood. Based on others remarks, intellectuals made foul remarks. While making newspaper reports, it was not at all sorted out whether the story was true or false.

They even didn’t try to understand how the construction work of Padma Bridge progressed on the right direction. They had no knowledge about it. And yet, they spoke in such a way that as if they were experts. Meanwhile, the newspapers didn’t mention anything about the irregularities of technical committee. They simply hindered the Padma Bridge construction project by raising baseless allegations against me. Being influenced by various factors, World Bank did not even think for once that they were dealing with a national resource, that if its implementation was hampered on baseless allegation, the country was stand to lose. I often ponder, why the newspapers of the country were compromising with the conspiracy? They were born and raised in this country. Why they were harming the country only to show me in the poor light. Were they incapable of understanding that? Even they didn’t say sorry after the allegations that were raised proved baseless by ACC and a Canadian court. None of their write-up had any such reflection. But Editor Nayeemul Islam Khan had said sorry on behalf of everyone in a TV talk show. A number of intellectuals who had spoken against me in talk-shows by believing in false news reports have personally said sorry to me.

Politician, former president, Professor AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury, Jatiya Party chairman former president HM Ershad and Bangabir Quader Siddiqui Biruttam asked the government to reintegrate me into the cabinet for the injustice that has been done to me.

I was Communication Minister for three years, when I worked really hard to mobilize foreign fund for the mega projects. I took various steps to develop road division, bridge division and present Railway Ministry all of which were under the Communication Ministry. When I took charge, the Bridge Division had no work other than collecting tolls from Bangabandhu Bridge. After taking charge I accelerated the activities of the Bridge Division.

I took 11 projects which included Construction of Padma Bridge at Mawa-Jajira Point, Construction of Dhaka-Elevated Expressway, Construction of Tunnel at Dhaka and Chittagong, Construction of Flyover from Gulistan Lechu Shah Mazar to Second Buriganga Bridge, Construction of Second Padma Bridge at Paturia-Daulatdia Point two.

If I had been the communications minister, the second Padma Bridge at Paturia-Daulatdia point would have been implemented by now. In this regard, the Hon'ble Prime Minister approved a summary of the construction of the bridge at Bidder's Financing. Under the Roads Department, 160 projects were approved out of which 44 were priority projects. Similarly, 44 fast-track projects have been approved for the development of railways. Many of its works were under implementation.

I can firmly say that the work that I have done in the Ministry of Communications for three years, the projects that I have undertaken, the work of those projects has started, progress has been made, no government with five years tenure has been able to take such initiative in 100 years. In the Ministry of Communications, I have accepted and implemented those projects, which will be a milestone and a historic document for Bangladesh in the future.

When I see that all these projects are being implemented, I feel immensely proud. All the projects that were taken during my tenure will become gradually visible. Soon the people will start receiving benefits of these projects. The World Bank and some local-foreign quarters had started hindering construction of Padma bridge from the very beginning. These quarters made a concerted effort to spread false propaganda through some newspapers and electronic media. At one stage World Bank canceled its credit facility for the project, prompting other donors such as JICA, IDB and ADB to follow suit. In fact, the World Bank didn’t want such a mega project to be completed within the tenure of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But defying all odds, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced that the bridge will be constructed with our own funds. Her bold announcement not only strengthened the existence of the Bengali nation, but also showed the donors that we too can. We too can take revenge through our deeds.

Today Padma Bridge stands magnificently as a symbol of Bengali’s sky-high dream, honesty, firmness, resilience and heroism. The bridge will play an important role as a catalyst for GDP growth and take our economy to a new height.

We had the target of launching Padma Bridge in December, 2013. So that Awami League can show the success of construction of Padma Bridge to the people in the 2014 elections. But some vested quarters orchestrated conspiracy from the very beginning, resulting in the delay for nine years. And then the construction work faced difficulty due to the strange nature of the Padma River and Covid-19 pandemic. Naturally, the delay in project completion shot up the cost of the project. But thanks to bold steps of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the worthy daughter of Father of the Nation, the dream Padma Bridge has now become a reality defying all conspiracy and bottlenecks. Today the whole nation is delighted and feeling proud. People from all walks of life irrespective of their political differences should remain grateful to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for making the dream bridge a reality.

 

The writer is a former communication minister, politician, benefactor, entrepreneur and columnist.