Tuesday, 16 August, 2022
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Padma Bridge: A Symbol of Honesty and Courage of Our PM

Zunaid Ahmed Palak (MP)

Padma Bridge: A Symbol of Honesty and Courage of Our PM
Zunaid Ahmed Palak (MP)

On January 12, 1972 Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took charge of the war-torn country. At that time Bangladesh was one of the ten poorest countries. Almost 88 per cent of the people were living below the poverty line. Dependence on foreign aid was 88 per cent. Many doubted whether this new-born country would actually survive itself! Henry Kissinger, a US security adviser, dubbed Bangladesh a “bottomless pit”. Standing on the rubble, Bangabandhu started planning for economic recovery with little resources in hand. In the second year of the first Five Year Plan (1973-78), Bangladesh’s GDP rose to 9.59 per cent against the target of 5.5 per cent in 1974-75, which is a record GDP in the history of Bangladesh.

After the assassination of Bangabandhu on 15 August 1975, the prospect of development quickly overturned. The country was plunged into darkness. The military and quasi-democratic rulers shared the power of the anti-independence forces and ruled the country for 21 long years. During that period, the GDP growth has never been above 4-5 per cent. But what if we take into account the premiership of Sheikh Hasina, we find a worthy successor of Bangabandhu. She picked up the development plans where Bangabandhu left. Her prudent judgment of economic development has transcended all the sectors. Her initiatives have propelled the country to a unique height. The GDP growth rose to 7.25 per cent in FY 2021-22 after a setback from the Covid-19 pandemic. In FY 2018-19 it was recorded 6 per cent.

Bangladesh is now the 41st largest economy in the world. The country is an epitome of a development to the world. This June 25 is marked to set another milestone in the ongoing development journey of Bangladesh. On this day, the Prime Minister will inaugurate the Padma Multipurpose Bridge fulfilling the dreams of millions of people. The Padma Bridge is not like any other bridge. It is an infrastructure of pride and glory. At the same time, this bridge testifies the audacity of foreign-aid-dependent Bangladesh’s economic potential to take charge of its development. It is a bridge to create examples of courage and honesty by tackling conspiracies and challenges. The articulation of this write-up revolves around the construction of the Padma Bridge.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a visionary leader. Building a bridge over the river Padma is one of her long-cherished dreams. If the bridge is built over the mighty river Padma, it will not only improve the connectivity of the people of 21 south-western districts in the country, but also make a huge contribution to the economy of Bangladesh. The bridge will play a vital role in all fields of agriculture, industry, economy, education and trade. An integrated communication system will be developed. It will connect the region with the Trans-Asian Highway and the Trans-Asian Railway. International connectivity with Bangladesh, India, Bhutan and Nepal will be established.

The importance of the Mongla port will increase manifold. There will be expansion of industry including tourism in the south-west. City-centres can spring up on the two banks of the Padma in the style of Singapore and Shanghai, China. A study by an independent consultant of the World Bank and a consultancy firm employed by the bridge department also reveals the economic impact of the Padma Bridge. According to the survey, if the Padma Bridge is built, the GDP will increase by 1.23 per cent. In addition, the GDP growth of the southwestern region will be 2.3 per cent.

When the Awami League won the 1996 national elections, a new government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina began its journey. The Padma Bridge, the dream of the prime minister, is on the priority list for economic activities. The pre-feasibility study of the Padma Bridge was conducted in 1999. On July 4, 2001, then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Padma Bridge.

Unfortunately, the realisation of the Padma Bridge project did not start in a smooth manner. Political retaliation, domestic and international conspiracies hampered the implementation of this bridge. During the rule of BNP-Jamaat alliance led by Begum Khaleda Zia, the pace of construction of Padma Bridge slowed down. After a detailed study, in 2004 JICA recommended the construction of the Padma Bridge at Mawa-Jaira Point. But the BNP-Jamaat alliance government did not take any effective steps to move ahead with the implementation of the project. They did not pass the Padma Bridge project at the ECNEC meeting in the light of detailed survey. The reason for this was the laying of the foundation stone of the Padma Bridge by Sheikh Hasina. The prime minister was so interested in the construction of the Padma Bridge that she included the construction of the Padma Bridge in Awami League’s 2008 election manifesto. Awami League’s sweeping victory in the 2008 national election brought hope back for the general masses. She again took the initiative to speed up its implementation by prioritising the construction of the Padma Bridge.

Although sad it is the fact that the Padma Bridge project with huge economic potential became the victim of domestic and foreign conspiracies. The World Bank has repeatedly recommended that a blacklisted company be hired as a consultant. The evaluation committee headed by Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, a distinguished professor at BUET, the country’s highest educational institution, did not agree to appoint the blacklisted company as a consultant. The appointment of consultants has been delayed due to repeated recommendations of the World Bank. In 2011, the World Bank alleged that it had found a “credible” corruption case in the Padma Bridge project, with high-ranking officials involved. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took up the challenge and asked the World Bank to prove the allegations. The World Bank has filed a complaint against Canadian SNC-Lavalin with the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. A lawsuit was later filed in a Canadian court. Following this, on June 29, 2012, the President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, cancelled the loan for the Padma Bridge. The question is that not a single penny has been released for the implementation of the alleged corruption surrounding the project. So how can there be corruption? Such questions were pondering around the minds of the conscious community. In fact, there was a deep conspiracy behind it. The decision to cancel the loan was made not only by the World Bank but also by domestic and international stakeholders. Their aim was to tarnish the image of the Awami League government at home and abroad. It was a tool to empower the opposition to cause an uprising in the country to ensure the defeat of the Awami League in the 2014 election. It was later identified that the conspiracy was linked to opposition politicians and a number of civil society figures, including a Nobel laureate, who wanted to oust Sheikh Hasina from politics at that stage.

The depth of the conspiracy will become clearer if we focus on the post-loan disbursement activities of the World Bank. The World Bank has been giving one condition after another to the government to receive the loan again. Per the recommendation of the World Bank, the government removed Syed Abul Hossain from the ministry of communications. Bridges Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan was arrested and had to go to jail and subsequently lost his job. Prime Minister’s financial adviser Mashiur Rahman has to go on leave.

But despite all this, there has been no positive response to the loan disbursement from the World Bank. It is noteworthy that the country’s most prominent opposition politician, Nobel Laureate and some members of the civil society are trying to prove the allegations of corruption of the World Bank on the Padma Bridge. They also made public statements. There are allegations that the so-called Nobel laureate, through a powerful country, used his influence on the World Bank to cancel loans. The prime minister took a tough stance as she could have guessed the conspiracy behind the loan.

She announced the construction of the Padma Bridge in the National Assembly in July 2012 with own funds. It was a timeless bold utterance, which was admired by all quarters at home and abroad. Following this, on January 31, 2013, Finance Minister AMA Muhith wrote two letters to the President of the World Bank and to ADB, JICA and IDB informing them of the government’s decision not to take their money to finance the Padma Bridge project. Work on the Padma Bridge started in 2015 from the treasury funds. In the midst of this construction, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the World Bank’s allegations of corruption were false. The government surprised the world by building the Padma Bridge with its own funds in seven years. Many, including economists, have said that Bangladesh is going to face huge economic risks by constructing the Padma Bridge with its own funds. But it did not happen. The real truth is that the conspiracy has been defeated by the determination, courage and honesty of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh’s economic potential has been proven to the world. The image of the country has brightened. Therefore, the Padma Bridge is not just a bridge; it is a symbol of honesty and courage of the people’s leader Sheikh Hasina.

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The writer is State Minister for ICT Division. He can be reached: [email protected]