Bangladesh's Padma Bridge in a quagmire

Dhaka (The Daily Star/ANN) - The construction of Padma Bridge will face a long delay if the World Bank does not accept the government's proposal to start the work soon without involving the firms accused of corruption.

The proposal was made when WB Vice-President Isabel M Guerrero met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith, who was present at the meeting, said this at a press briefing at his secretariat office yesterday.

The WB official came to Dhaka on a day's trip to inform the government about the lending agency's position on corruption allegations concerning the Padma Bridge project.

Muhith told journalists, "We cannot wait for an indefinite period. We have told them [World Bank] to officially communicate to us the names of the companies accused of corruption. The government will drop those from the short-list and start the construction."

At Sunday's meeting, Guerrero said the bank will take its decision after discussing the matter at its headquarters in Washington.

The government has short-listed five firms for appointment as consultants including Canadian company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. The names of those short-listed have been sent to the World Bank for its approval.

The Canadian authorities are investigating the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc for corruption following a WB referral.

Guerrero told the government that the bank cannot approve the appointment of consulting firms until the Canadian authorities dispose of the allegations against SNC-Lavalin.

The minister told her that the probe against the accused firms may take two to three years to be completed, and the government cannot wait that long to begin the construction.

The WB official said they have received some other allegations as well.

Muhith said, "The prime minister and I have emphatically told the World Bank vice-president to inform the government about the companies against whom they have allegations. The government will begin construction of the bridge without those companies."

Besides the proposal for appointing consulting firms, tender documents for the construction work and river training have been sent to the WB for approval. But none of those has been approved yet.

The minister said both he and the PM will go to the US separately this month. They will have talks with the WB officials there on the issues regarding Padma Bridge.

If the matter is settled by this month and the bank accepts the government proposal, preparatory work for construction of the bridge will start next month.

It, however, might take till January to begin the construction, which was earlier expected to get underway by October.

Asked about speculations that the WB will not fund the bridge as long as Syed Abul Hossain stays communications minister, Muhith said, "I don't know of anything like that. Maybe it all is being spread."

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