Japan interested if Padma bridge plan revised

The Daily Star July 10, 2012

Japan thinks the Padma bridge project could be undertaken under a new framework of donor arrangement now that the World Bank has cancelled its funding commitment in the project.

Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada conveyed the message when Foreign Minister Dipu Moni called on him in Tokyo yesterday.

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Okada further assured that Japan would pursue the donor groups including the Asian Development Bank to embark on a negotiated settlement in respect of the project, said a foreign ministry press release from Tokyo.

Meanwhile in Dhaka, the cabinet yesterday decided that the government would not request the WB to reconsider its decision to cancel the Padma bridge loan. However, it would be open to talks if the global lender realised its mistake and wanted to review its decision.

“The government firmly believes it did not make any mistake. The World Bank has made an unjustified decision. Discussions can take place if it realises its mistake and intends to review its decision, but the government will not make any request to it at this moment,” Cabinet Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told journalists after a cabinet meeting.

At the meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the cabinet also decided to mobilise both internal and external resources for the multipurpose bridge.

Mosharraf said the government would welcome the co-financers — ADB, Jica and Islamic Development Bank — if they showed interest in financing the project. “We hope to get positive response from them.”

The WB cancelled its $1.2 billion credit for Padma bridge project on June 29, claiming it has proof of a corruption conspiracy involving Bangladeshi officials, executives of Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin and individuals.

In Japan to attend the international conference on Afghanistan, the Bangladesh foreign minister also met her Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba and Jica President Akihiko Tanaka separately.

At the meeting with Gemba, Dipu Moni reiterated Dhaka’s firm resolve to initiate the Padma bridge project on its own and sought Tokyo’s support in this regard as a “trusted friend and partner”.

Highlighting the measures taken by the government to ensure absolute transparency in the project, she said the government was ready to undertake the project with its own resources, but it would appreciate if countries like Japan could extend their support.

In response, Gemba confirmed that the Japan government understands the feelings of the people of Bangladesh with respect to the significance of the Padma bridge project.

He reaffirmed that Japan would pursue the possibility of funding the project along with other bilateral and multilateral donor agencies.

Later, meeting top Jica officials, Dipu Moni explained Bangladesh’s position regarding the WB’s cancellation of the Padma bridge loan. She told them that the bank neither followed the due process nor gave any credible evidence about alleged corruption in the project.

Apart from Jica President Akihiko Tanaka, the meeting was attended by Jica Director General Nakahara Masataka, Jica Chief Representative in Bangladesh Toda Takao and Jica Director for South Asia Division Ichiguchi Tomohide.

Dipu Moni said that the government was determined to start work of the Padma bridge without further delay, and that it would ensure “zero tolerance” for corruption in executing the project.

The foreign minister urged the Japan government to remain “steadfast in its pledge for continuation of the project”.

The Jica president expressed regret over the WB’s decision.

He said they were satisfied with Dhaka’s firm determination to go ahead with the project and commitment to ensuring transparency and accountability in the process.

Tanaka also mentioned that Jica, as the implementing agency, would consult all other government agencies in Japan to further discuss the possibilities of “continuation of funding the project” under the new framework of arrangements.

The Padma bridge issue dominated the cabinet meeting, though it was not on the day’s agenda.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith made a presentation on the project.

Cabinet Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said the bridge’s construction would start primarily with the country’s own resources, and then the government would start looking for other sources.

“The prime minister has instructed the ministries to be selective in implementing projects. She said not all allocations are needed at once to implement the projects. In this way, we can save some money this year and channel those to the Padma bridge project,” he said.

Mosharraf said people from all walks of life had shown interest in contributing to the project and the cabinet decided to explore all options available.

“Since we have to import construction materials with foreign currency, we need to mobilise resources in terms of foreign exchange. Many expatriate Bangladeshis have expressed their willingness to contribute to the project. We can get a large chunk of their remittance.”

He said $275 million would be required this year to start the construction work.

“The prime minister said $1 billion can easily be used from the foreign exchange reserve.” The government can also issue some bonds, said Mosharraf.

On mobilisation of external resources, he said the National Board of Revenue can also take steps in this regard.

He said the Finance Division and the Economic Relations Division will work out how much foreign exchange will be required for the project.

Wishing anonymity, a minister told The Daily Star the government had got some proposals for loans at 4 percent interest. Officials were now at talks to bring down the interest rate to 3 percent.


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