The World Bank will shortly sit with the co-financiers to discuss implementation of the Padma bridge project, said WB Bangladesh Country Director Ellen Goldstein yesterday.
“There will be a joint mission meeting with the co-financiers to begin discussions on some changes in implementation of the project…. It’s a complicated implementation process with some large-scale tendering activities,” Goldstein said.
She was talking to reporters after the WB signed two credit deals with the government at the Economic Relations Division. The $457 million loan will be used to improve rural transport and bring rural areas under the power network, which will benefit some 25 million people.
Earlier on Sunday, she said a WB mission would arrive in Dhaka next month to begin talks on the execution process of the $2.97 billion project, the largest infrastructure scheme in the country. Goldstein also hinted that the project work and corruption investigation would go on simultaneously.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Corruption Commission yesterday sent responses to all the inquiries of a WB panel, which is assigned to review the ACC probe. ACC officials said they had sent 20 investigation-related files to the WB expert panel.
The WB, lead financier of the Padma bridge project, cancelled its $1.2 billion loan deal in June, saying it had proof of a “corruption conspiracy” involving some Bangladesh government officials and executives of a Canadian firm.
The co-financiers — the Asian Development Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Islamic Development Bank — also halted release of their finds following the WB decision.
In September, the WB re-engaged in the project after the government agreed to meet the bank’s conditions, including sending the suspected government officials on leave till the investigation was completed and giving a WB panel access to the ACC findings.
Accordingly, the WB formed a three-member external panel headed by Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The panel made its first three-day visit to Dhaka from October 14-16.
“They [the panel] left on October 16 after a very positive meeting. They also agreed to work with the ACC,” Goldstein said yesterday. “When the panel receives the answers the mission will be in a position to write its first report.”
She said the bank encouraged the ACC to move ahead with the investigation as fast as possible for the WB to move forward to implement the project.
Earlier on several occasions the WB hinted its funding would depend on a “positive review” by the panel.
ACC SENDS DOCUMENTS
Talking to journalists at the ACC office in the capital’s Segunbagicha, ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman said, “All the information and data sought by the World Bank panel of experts has been sent.”
He, however, would not give any details of the information.
Replying to a query, Ghulam Rahman said the commission would not interrogate any WB officials. But if necessary, it would discuss relevant matters with the bank.
ACC Commissioner Mohammad Shahabuddin later told reporters that the ACC had sent 20 files detailing the ACC probe into the corruption allegation.
Shahabuddin said the ACC investigation was yet to be completed. Asked, he refused to reveal the commission’s findings obtained so far.
“We sought help from the World Bank to get us information from Canada,” he said.
On Monday, the ACC chief said the attorney general on the commission’s behalf was in touch with the Canadian authorities. But the Canadian government was yet to respond.
The Anti-Corruption Commission on Tuesday said it was essential to speak to some officials of the World Bank in the ongoing investigations into perceived corruption in the Padma bridge project.
But Chairman Ghulam Rahman declined suggestions that they will be questioned.
“It will be a discussion, not interrogation,” Rahman said.
Earlier in the day, ACC’s Legal Advisor Anisul Haque told reporters that the ACC had initiated a probe into the graft allegations in Bangladesh’s largest-ever infrastructure project on its own and that the World Bank started pressing for an investigation later.
“The World Bank made the graft allegations later. So, the World Bank is a complainant organisation to the ACC. It’s essential to interrogate some WB officials for the sake of investigation,” he added.
He also said they had already made a request to the global lender.
The ACC Chairman, however, told reporters: “The World Bank is not an organisation for complaints. We’ve requested them to discuss the information they have given over the corruption charges in the Padma bridge project. There is no question of questioning them.”
The ACC Chairman found another ‘inconsistency’ in Haque’s remarks.
Haque said they would send the relevant documents that the World Bank’s external panel sought from the ACC by Thursday. “We had sought time from the World Bank team to provide the documents. The documents have been made ready and will be sent as early as possible,” he added.
But Rahman said all the papers have already been sent.
After some officials of the Integrity Department of the Washington-based World Bank raised graft allegations into the Padma bridge, the global lender cancelled its $1.2-billion credit for the $2.9-billion project on June 29, saying it had credible evidence of a corruption conspiracy involving Bangladeshi officials, executives of Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and some private individuals.
The World Bank, which decided to revive its loan commitment on Sep 21 after the Bangladesh government agreed to its terms and conditions, appointed an external panel early this month to oversee the ACC investigation.
The three-member panel recently visited Dhaka and held several meetings with the ACC’s top officials.
Haque said for the sake of proper investigation, it was also vital to know the latest developments in the Canadian probe into the corruption charges.
“We’re yet to hear anything about the issue. We hope that the World Bank officials will cooperate with us to this end,” he said.
Canadian police had arrested former SNC-Lavalin executives Ramesh Shah and Mohammad Ismail, along with Chief Executive Pierre Duhaime, in February this year. They were formally charged in April with graft conspiracy in the Padma bridge project.
The Canadian police are presently investigating the matter.