Monday, September 25, 2023

WB takes hard line on graft allegations

Padma Bridge Project
WB takes hard line on graft allegations
Says no funding if govt doesn’t take action
The World Bank will not fund the proposed Padma Bridge project unless the government takes actions against alleged corruption in the project’s tendering process, and brings changes at the top level of the communications ministry, sources in the finance ministry said.
WB notified the government about its position in an exclusive letter to Finance Minister AMA Muhith during the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the bank in Washington late last month.
The letter mentioned the lending agency’s finding of corruption in the tendering process, the sources added.
After the finance minister returns home from London, he will take up the issue with the prime minister for a final decision.
“The finance minister held an exclusive meeting with the World Bank high officials in Washington. After that, the letter was given to him,” said a high official of the finance ministry.
WB found evidence of corruption by a business firm owned by an influential minister. Representatives of the minister’s firm offered pre-qualified bidders arrangement for awarding of the job in their favour in exchange for commission.
The World Bank Group’s Integrity Vice-presidency (INT), an independent arm of the bank responsible for investigating allegations of fraud and corruption in the bank financed projects, investigated the allegation.
INT interviewed all pre-qualified bidders in the project who revealed the “offers” made by the minister’s firm.
Last Wednesday, Finance Minister AMA Muhith told the daily Prothom Alo New York correspondent in an interview at the JFK Airport VIP lounge, “They [WB] talked of corruption in the communications ministry, but would not make public the names of the alleged corruptionists before completing the probe.”
Muhith also expressed concern over the Padma Bridge project.
The project will require $2.9 billion. The WB Board approved $1.2 billion and committed to provide an extra $300 million later. Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank and Japan are the co-financiers.
Earlier this year, the government sent a list of five pre-qualified bidders to WB for consent. Of them, the lowest bidder was Canadian company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. However, WB has not yet approved the list.
The Canadian authorities are investigating SNC-Lavalin Group Inc for corruption following a WB complaint.
WB Vice-president Isabel M Guerrero during a sudden visit to Bangladesh in mid-September held a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for around two hours. An official of INT was also present during that meeting, the sources said.
Guerrero told the Bangladesh government that the bank cannot approve the list of pre-qualified bidders until the Canadian authorities settle the allegations against SNC-Lavalin, the finance minister told journalists after the meeting between the prime minister and Guerrero.
Muhith said, “We cannot wait for an indefinite period. We have told them [World Bank] to officially give us the names of the companies accused of corruption. The government will drop those from the short-list and start the construction.”
At that meeting, Guerrero said the bank will take its decision after discussing the matter at its headquarters in Washington.
The sources said WB in its recent letter clearly informed the government about its position. WB funding will depend on the government’s decision about the corruption allegation, the sources added.
Meanwhile, some quarters have been saying that the government’s position regarding Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank is a reason behind WB’s objections regarding the project. A high official of the finance ministry however told The Daily Star if that was so, the WB Board would not have approved the $1.2 billion loan.
The Awami League-led alliance government in its electoral pledge promised to construct the Padma Bridge during its tenure. However, after the leading financier’s objections, financing from other donors might also become uncertain, the sources said.


Courtesy of The Daily Star

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