12:00 AM, January 25, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 25, 2013

Quit WB job, join politics

Muhith pokes outgoing country boss

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Staff Correspondent

Finance Minister AMA Muhith yesterday advised that the World Bank Country Director Ellen Goldstein had better quit job and join politics in Bangladesh.
“I have an advice for her. It will be better if she gave up her World Bank job and joined politics here,” Muhith said this to reporters after a meeting of the cabinet committee on purchase at the secretariat.
When reporters drew his attention to the WB country director's view that a decision on Padma bridge funding might not be possible by the end of this month, the minister said Ellen Goldstein is leaving this month.
The finance minister said Goldstein has spoken on many things. She even claimed she is the most popular person in the country as she unearthed a big corruption.
Ellen Goldstein addressing a function at the National Economic Council auditorium on January 19 said, "My name will probably always be associated with the Padma bridge project and with the World Bank's insistence on a serious investigation of corruption evidence under that project.
"And I know this because Bangladeshis now stop me in the streets, in shops to thank me for taking a strong stance against corruption.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Finance Minister Muhith earlier had said the government will go for alternatives if the World Bank decision on the Padma bridge funding was not available by January.
But Muhith yesterday said, “I have said we want a decision by January. But if it is not January, we have a time limit in our mind and we don't want to go beyond that.”
As reporters insisted, he declined disclosing the “time limit”.
The finance minister expressed frustration over the WB's present position regarding the Padma bridge project. “They have decided to stay on but there is no way till now to guess when they will start work. We are frustrated at this.”
Talking about the alternative funding, he said, “We have talked with the Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and Islamic Development Bank so that they continue with the project even if the World Bank does not come forward.”
Besides, a couple of other donors have also expressed interest, he said, admitting that for their inclusion in the project as financiers, concurrence of the existing co-financiers will be required.
The minister said this is a very complex process.
An official from a co-financier earlier told The Daily Star, "If the World Bank does not agree ultimately the agreement with Bangladesh will break down ineffective."
"If the WB does not want to finance the project for the corruption allegation, the co-financiers might also not be interested to make any new commitment as governance is a key condition before they agree to finance any project."
The co-financiers sat in Manila last November to prepare a draft for the arrangement of quick implementation of the project.

But the process did not go too far as Abul was not included in the FIR, said the official.
Yesterday, Muhith also told journalists the government has long been in talks with Malaysia on the Padma bridge funding. Earlier, the government did not take their proposal into cognizance as it was incomplete. Now they have reiterated their interest. China is also interested but first they want a settlement of the complexities with the World Bank.
On a question referring to some ministers, especially minister without portfolio Suranjit Sengupta, saying if a former minister (Syed Abul Hossain) is sacrificed, the World Bank will finance the Padma bridge project, Muhith replied the ministers know nothing about the project.
“These colleagues have not seen the bridge related documents as those are highly secret. This is why they are making such comments.”
The finance minister added that he had earlier said and was still saying that there has not been any corruption in the Padma Bridge project. However, a conspiracy was there.
When the reporters noted the Anti-Corruption Commission statement that corruption took place in the project, Muhith said, “I don't know how they are saying this.”
Reporters again asked him why the Bridges Division secretary had to go to jail if there was no conspiracy. The minister advised the reporters to ask the question to the ACC and go through the first information report (FIR) the anti-graft body filed.
The World Bank had cancelled its $1.2 billion funding on June 29, 2012, saying it had proof of a "corruption conspiracy" involving Bangladeshi officials, executives of a Canadian firm and some individuals.
The hope to get the loan was revived as the global lender on September 21 last year decided to come back to the project after Bangladesh agreed to its terms and conditions.

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