Tuesday, 16 August, 2022

WB’s Graft Allegation in Padma Bridge Project

Victims’ indignation yet to be redressed

Victims’ indignation yet to be redressed
Syed Abdul Hossain

The government is going to inaugurate the Padma Bridge on June 25 without rectifying injustice done to some patriotic Bangladeshi nationals, including former Communications Minister Syed Abdul Hossain, following World Bank’s baseless allegation of corruption conspiracy in the project.

The global lending agency had cancelled a US$ 1.2 billion loan for the bridge bringing the allegation of corruption conspiracy in the project, which saw the resignation of Abul Hossain, who played a key role in construction of the bridge as the then communications minister.

“The allegation of World Bank was fabricated. It was part of a conspiracy and intended to tarnish my reputation,” Abul Hossain, who is a very popular leader in his constituency Madaripur-3 from where he was elected MP four times on Awami League ticket, told the Daily Sun.

In a programme of Boao Forum for Asia, the then WB President Robert B Zoellick admitted to Abul Hossain that the cancellation of the loan based on misleading reports of some media was a great mistake. 

Several years have elapsed since a Canadian court on February 11, 2017 acquitted three business executives of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc of Padma Bridge graft charges rejecting the allegation of corruption in the project. The executives of the big engineering firm were assigned to oversee the construction work.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Bangladesh also ran marathon investigation into the allegation of corruption in the Padma Bridge and gave clean chit to all the accused.

Although Abul Hossain and others were proved innocent, they are still bearing the stigma at home and abroad for lack of state recognition.

Aggrieved persons and experts concerned said if Abul Hossain and others are not compensated, the conspirators will feel encouraged and other important projects of the country will face similar obstruction in future.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, forming government after her party’s landslide victory in 2009, took construction of the mega Padma Bridge as a priority project. She appointed Abul Hossain as communications minister asking him to concentrate on the project.

On the very first day of his office as minister, Abdul Hossain started necessary work in this regard and made tremendous progress within a short time.

Had the World Bank not raised the false allegation, the Padma Bridge would have been completed nine years ago.

“The Padma Bridge is a symbol of our pride. It’s 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,” Abul Hossain said.

From the very beginning, vested interests were active to block the construction of the Padma Bridge intended to strengthen highway communications of the country as well as South Asia.

Abul Hossain said the then WB Country Director Ellen Goldstein at a dinner asked him to go slow with the Padma Bridge project. “Mr Hossain, don’t go fast. Don’t complete the bridge during the tenure of this government,” Abul Hossain said quoting Ellen Goldstein.

The World Bank expedited its premeditated plan to withdraw funding after rejection of its request to appoint a disqualified and blacklisted firm as consultant of the project.

Vested interests in Bangladesh and the then top officials of the World Bank were hell-bent to malign the Awami League government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

To implement its evil design, the World Bank assigned Pakistani-origin official and anti-liberation agent Masood Ahmed as coordinator of the bridge.

Terming the Padma Bridge a symbol of nation’s pride, capability and self-confidence, Abul Hossain said the bridge is 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 on presenting us with such a historic infrastructure confronting local and foreign conspiracy,” he said.

The World Bank’s allegation of so-called corruption regarding construction of the Padma Bridge was not only absolutely false and baseless, but also entirely politically motivated, the former communications minister said.

Describing the conspiracy, he said, “The saga stemmed from a dangerous but purely selfish and self-serving perspective. When the World Bank failed to appoint their favoured 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 and make sure that our government can’t complete it within its tenure so that the next government can complete it and take the credit.”

Abul Hossain claimed to have resigned from communications ministry to protect the image of the government and facilitate the WB funding.

Despite resignation of Abul Hossain and imprisonment of Secretary Mosharraf Hossain, the global lender did not release the fund in utter infringement of its commitment.

“When the conspirators tried to establish the corruption allegation like Joseph Goebbels, I urged 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,” Abul Hossain said.

He said the allegation was disproved by the ACC and an Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The Canadian court rejected a case against some high-ups of SNC-Lavalin, a firm 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.”

The former communications minister said a bridge over the Padma River was one of the main polls pledges of Awami League.

Because of being the communications minister and key person of the project, Abul Hossain was the main target of the conspirators.

The dream Padma Bridge is going to be opened to traffic on June 25 ushering in a new horizon in the country’s communications system and socioeconomic prospects. The issue of conspiracy and the question of safety of the structure have come to the fore ahead of the inauguration of the bridge.

In the recent past, some water vessels hit the bridge on several occasions, sparking a safety concern.

Political analysts, legal experts and academics said the indignation of the conspiracy victims needs be redressed while conspirators should be punished and reprimanded to prevent the recurrence of such incident.

In an article published in the Bangladesh Pratidin, Bangabir Abdul Kader Siddique (Bir Uttam), President of Krishak Sramik Janata League and only civilian sector commander of 1971 Liberation War, said, “We’re proud of the Padma Bridge. Ahead of the inauguration of the bridge, the government should have assuaged the grievances of the persons who languished in jail or faced insult.”

Lauding Abul Hossain for his punctuality, he said Bangladesh should have been grateful to such a minister who used to go to office at 8:00am. “Syed Abul Hossain is deprived of ministerial post despite his acquittal by a Canadian court. My nephew Abul Hasan Chowdhury (former state minister for foreign affairs) also didn’t get back his lost image. A secretary and others who languished in jail are yet to be compensated. The Padma Bridge is going to be inaugurated on June 25.  Prior to inauguration, the authorities concerned should have restored the lost image of the persons who bore the brunt of the graft charges. The issue of Syed Abul Hossain deserves special attention as he faced much indignation. Or else, we’ll be defined as indiscreet and stand trial.”

Attorney General AM Amin Uddin said, “They (Abul Hossain and others) faced indignation following false graft allegation. They can file cases against the conspirators with proper courts at home and abroad.”