Wednesday, 6 July, 2022
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Padma Bridge and a Man Named Syed Abul Hossain

Prof. Dr. Abdul Mannan Choudhury

Padma Bridge and a Man Named Syed Abul Hossain
Prof. Dr. Abdul Mannan Choudhury

The Padma Bridge is no longer a dream; it has become a reality and its benefits will start flowing from 26 June, 2022. The nation will remember the bold, iron-willed and determined leadership of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. She steered this project to its meaningful conclusion with the self-fund defying all misgiving, obstacles and other physical and human barriers.

Alongside Sheikh Hasina, some other people especially Syed Abul Hossain, Dr. Moshiur Rahman, Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, Kazi Mohammad Ferdous, Reaz Ahmed Zaber and others connected with SNC Lavalin will be loudly or silently remembered. Two of the Bangladeshis were put behind the bar for certain period of time. Dr. Moshiur Rahman was granted leave and subjected to endless humiliation by friends and foes alike, at home and abroad. Figures like Khaleda Zia, Dr. M. Yunus, and Hillary Clinton or Cherie Blair were indirectly involved in the mischievous design to get this project terminated by World Bank on a flimsy account of conspiring to obtain kickbacks of insignificant amount compared to the total anticipated cost of the project. The next or even the foremost so-called conspirator to swallow the blame and possibility to go to jail was Syed Abul Hossain. They could not be interned but his personal and familial images have been tarnished beyond repair. The celebrated businessmen, politician and then sitting minister had the displeasure at one minister and one advisor of the prime minister at least.

Syed Abul Hossain is a very special person to me. I can proudly say that he was one of my outstanding first batch honour’s students at Dhaka University before the Liberation War. Perhaps, he was not that brilliant student like his friends Dr. Shafiq Siddiqui, Dr. Mannan, but he was an attractive and charming personality. As per as I remember, he aligned with the freedom fighters during the Liberation War, managed to get an humble job after the liberation and have been earnestly picking up speed  to set foot in business. Gradually, through his hard work and honest efforts, he emerged as one of the distinguished business personalities. He proved himself very successful in introducing modern management tools and techniques. The unknown and unheard of motivational tools he devised in line with our culture in his organisations surprised me and many others. He also founded quite a member of organisations and was the founder secretary of the National Management Associations. As secretary of the NMA, he was the first in Bangladesh to arrange a seminar on VAT, where I presented a keynote paper.

He was in student politics and stepped in national politics superseding his nearby colleagues. He was very polite, sober, simple-hearted, well-behaved and highly respectful to his teachers. In course of time, he managed to earn large sum of money and spent these mostly for philanthropic purposes. The list of his philanthropic activities appears almost endless. The beneficiaries were not only the people in his own area, but his friends, relations, politicians as well as who so ever asked for his funding. Besides, being a good person defined by our culture and social norms, I found him thoroughly religious and perhaps for that reason he could emerge as the son-in-law of one celebrated Pir of Enayetpur. Their conjugal life was eventful. He received all out cooperation from his wife and family members.

Politics and business brought him to the sight of AL President Sheikh Hasina. He was nominated for parliamentary election, which he gloriously won and got a position of state minister in Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet in 2009. In that position, he wanted to remain aloof, independent and only loyal to his mentor almost disregarding the other political and social actors. That enabled him to demonstrate his efficiency but that was sufficient for generating hatred from within and was a spur for conspiracy. There were efforts to stop his forward march but, he gained more weight by becoming a full minister in the second consecutive cabinet of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. She put him in the position of Minister of Road, Bridge and Highway and he proved himself worthy and useful. As minister, he completed a number a projects and completed all the ground work for constructing the Padma Bridge, promised in the election manifesto of Awami League. But, all of a sudden, the World Bank, the main actor in financing, discovered conspiracy of misappropriating a part of the project money set aside for supervising the work of the project by a Canadian firm named SNC Lavalin. The firm was chosen by an independent body to oversee the entire work by superseding the chosen party of the World Bank. After failing to convince the minister and the committee for selection of their chosen party, the World Bank started finding faults with Bangladesh side of the project and SNC Lavalin. They brought allegations of conspiring of embezzlement of fund in the name of several individuals, including some innocent members of the Prime Minister’s family. The World Bank’s allegation highlighted that the minister and his cohorts demanded a sum equivalent to 10% of 47 million Dollars earmarked for overseeing the work of the entire project. It was even propagated that the minister paved ways of misappropriating 35 million out of the 47 million dollars. Some local influential persons grabbed the opportunity to grind their personnel ends. Dr. Yunus, just to remain the MD of Grameen Bank, pulled together Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and Cherie Blair to speak for his extension of tenure which failed because of his age. He remained active and mobilised others to speak in favour of the World Bank. Syed Abul Hossain was almost on the verge of receiving a place in jail. He was, of course, implicated in police case and subjected to vigorous ACC investigation. World Bank by Bringing Okapmo in the scene invigorated another step to get others out of the project and into the jail.

In the meantime, Syed Abul Hossain left his ministry in order to facilitate the so-called investigation against him by the police and ACC. Later on, he quitted the office. When it was almost proved that the allegation to misappropriate fund was baseless, unfunded and motivated and the government complied with almost all requests of the World Bank, the later withdrew its commitment of funding the Multi-purpose Bridge, along with other significant parties in the project. This was probably a calculated move of the World Bank to thwart Sheikh Hasina’s stage back in power in 2014.

While the World Bank and its collaborators withdrew from the project, the visionary leader of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina embarked on the highly delicate and disputed project entirely with own fund. The bridge started taking shape and the allegation in the Canadian court against SNC Lavalin started rolling. Ultimately, the Canadian court found neither the conspiracy nor any trace of misappropriating fund. Syed Abul Hossain, along with others, was happy with the decision but did not go against the World Bank or any other persons. He openly thanked the prime minister and the people of the country but silently thanked his Creator. He received congratulation from commoners. No politicians except Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury pleaded for reinstating him to his lost position.  A few intellectuals raised voice but it could not create much impact.

After the court decision, Dr. Mashiur Rahman could resume his work as an advisor to the prime minister and Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan got back his job in another ministry. Later, he was made Senior Secretary, Chairman of NBR and at present is working as ambassador of Bangladesh to Germany. Syed Abul Hossain remained outside the party or political horizon but regained tarnished image and social standing.

Now, on completion of the project and especially on announcing the date for the inauguration of the highly challenging bridge, some corners have started reopening the chapter in different guises. That also includes a plea for Syed Abul Hossain and some others to be compensated in one or other form. It is expected that the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will take steps to reward the innocent people.

A second Padma Bridge is in the offing. Who knows, whether the harassed, terminated and dishonoured people will find suitable positions in the forth-coming mega project or projects.

The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of World University of Bangladesh