12:00 AM, November 05, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 05, 2012

Padma Bridge Financing

No breach of consensus

Claims Muhith; Adviser Mashiur says he won't object to long leave

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Staff Correspondent

Finance Minister AMA Muhith yesterday said there was no breach of the understanding on which the World Bank reengaged in the Padma bridge project.
Muhith, however, did not clarify the issue of leave of Prime Minister's Economic Affairs Adviser Mashiur Rahman.
There is no problem now in implementing the project. “It is a matter of time now,” said the minister.
Meanwhile, Mashiur said if he was required to go on long leave because of any understanding between the government and the WB, he would do so.
Asked about his return to office on Thursday after a month's leave, he said, "It does not need any explanation. I took leave from the prime minister and I returned to work after the leave."
Mashiur made the comments coming out of the Anti-Corruption Commission's office where he was quizzed in connection with the corruption allegations in the Padma bridge project.
He went to the ACC office in a car without any national flag.
Muhith told reporters, “I think the problem regarding the effectuation of the Padma bridge credit has been settled and I have no doubt or confusion about this.”
He said Isabel Guerrero, WB vice president for South Asia Region, will arrive in Dhaka this month to discuss the effectuation of the loan.
The minister was talking to reporters after a meeting of the cabinet committee on economic affairs at the cabinet division.
He didn't give any direct reply to queries about Mashiur's leave, and said Economic Relations Division Secretary Iqbal Mahmood, who was by his side, would give a statement later in the afternoon.
Wishing anonymity, a World Bank official said the Bank will closely monitor whether the government is keeping its pledge.
Later, Mahmood read out a written statement issued by the finance minister at his office. The statement did not say anything about Mashiur's leave.
In the statement, Muhith said a WB implementation team will arrive in Dhaka this month and hold talks with the project's other co-financiers.
“We firmly believe that visible work on the Padma bridge will start in the current fiscal year,” Muhith said in the statement.
When reporters wanted to know about Mashiur's leave, Mahmood said, “I have no official version of what he [Mashiur] has said.”
The journalists told him that the understanding between the government and the WB was that Mashiur would not join office during the ACC probe into the corruption allegations against him. But he joined office.
In reply, Mahmood said, “It is not clear to me whether he has joined office… have you seen that he went to office?"
He said there was a condition that all officials against whom corruption allegations were raised will be on leave while the probe is on, and there has been no breach of it.
When the reporters again asked him about Mashiur's leave, he said, “It is useless if you assume something. It's clear that the government's position has not changed. You have to understand.”
In the evening, Mashiur told journalists that he came to know about the WB's allegations from newspapers.
“I will request you [journalists] to publish what the World Bank has given you, as nobody else knows about it. I also don't know.
“If the World Bank gave you nothing, you [journalists] tell people the truth.”
Asked about his grilling at the ACC, Mashiur said it was not to be disclosed.
In the meantime, ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman told journalists that they didn't find any evidence of corruption in the project till yesterday based on which they could file a First Information Report.
He said the ACC probe would not be affected by whether Mashiur continues office or not.
On the issue of Mashiur's leave, Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow of Centre for Policy Dialogue, said, “What is possibly needed now is a decisive and emphatic assertion on the part of the top political leadership which will ensure consistent and coherent approach and measures towards target-oriented implementation of the work plan that has been agreed upon between the government and the concerned lenders.”
He said there are factors and forces beyond economic rationale that are inhibiting the implementation of the conditions agreed between the government and the WB.
“Such hiccups in the post-revival period may in the end seriously jeopardise the actual operationalisation of the loan to the detriment of the country's national development interests,” said Bhattacharya.

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