The government, under the influence of a former minister, has changed its priority list of some Chinese-funded development projects, leaving the financier baffled.
On November 11 last year, the previous government sent a list of 15 priority projects to the Chinese embassy in Dhaka seeking more than $7 billion.
After assuming office, the new Awami League-led government on January 15 sent a revised list of 18 projects changing the order of priority. The fresh list included three new projects and replaced two top priority schemes.
This time around, the government sought loans and grants of more than $8.6 billion from the Chinese government.
The Daily Star has obtained copies of the priority lists which were sent to the Chinese embassy by the Economic Relations Department (ERD).
According to the list compiled in November, the government's first two priorities were building a railway bridge parallel to the Bangabandhu Bridge on the Jamuna with a provision of dual gauge double track, and setting up a surface water treatment plant in Rajshahi at a cost of $1 billion and $500 million.
But within just two months, the authorities prioritised establishment of a four-tier national data centre and construction of a railway-cum-road bridge across the river Karnaphuli in Kalurghat of Chittagong. The previous top two priority projects came third and fifth in the new list.
China implements projects in Bangladesh through its different companies who have the required experience in the jobs. The financier is baffled by the changes in the priority list.
“We are confused at the changes as we can't understand the real priorities of the Bangladesh government. As a result, we can't concentrate on financing the projects,” said a representative of a Chinese firm.
Sources in Bangladesh and Chinese governments said a few influential lobbyists including a former minister, who have businesses with some Chinese firms, were behind the changes in the priority list. They managed officials in the finance ministry and the ERD to charge the priority order as they have business interest in some top projects.
Talking to The Daily Star, a Chinese embassy official said they have nothing to do with the priority list as it is up to the Bangladesh government to prioritise its projects. But changes to the list might delay the financing, which in turn would affect the project tenures, he added.
Apart from the first two, the 13 other priority projects of the first list were replacement of overloaded distribution transformation for providing reliable electricity in RE system; reducing system loss by replacing 5 million Electrical Mechanical Energy Meters with Electronic Energy Meter; procurement of rescue equipment for earthquake and other disasters; strengthening of research and piloting of BINA-developed promising crop varieties; water supply, sanitation, drainage and solid waste management for small municipalities; development of national ICT Infra-Network for the Government of Bangladesh Phase-III (Info-govt); construction of a new inland container depot (ICD) near the Dhirasram Railway Station; Dasher Kandi sewerage treatment plant; reinforcement, rehabilitation and augmentation of 33/11 KV substations under the Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC); Ganges Barrage Project; Mohora water supply extension project of Chittagong WASA; development and widening of various important roads, construction of RCC-covered drain with footpath and foot bridge in Sylhet City Corporation area; and reinforcement and augmentation of 132/33 KV grid sub stations under the DPDC.
In the new list, construction of an elevated chord line from Dhaka to Comilla was included as a priority project to be implemented at a cost of $1.5 billion.