With “satisfactory” improvement in law and order, Japanese consultants and contractors are rejoining projects in Bangladesh which they had left following a string of terror attacks, especially after the one on Gulshan cafe on July 1.
Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) assists in 35 projects and all of those had either stalled or slowed down due to the absence of consultants and contractors, project officials said.
They said work on some projects was in full swing with the return of the Japanese while progress was slow in some in their absence.
The government's security arrangements at the project sites and for the protection of the foreign consultants and contractors was the reason behind their return. In the last two months, the government lobbied hard to convince Japan that the measures were adequate to ensure security of its nationals here.
“We [officials of the projects, ministries concerned and law enforcement agencies] held a series of meetings with Japanese officials so that their confidence could be gained for resuming project activities,” said an additional secretary of Economic Relations Division (ERD).
The government took representatives of Japanese embassy in Dhaka to several project areas to show them the security arrangements. Security personnel have been deployed at project sites while police protection was given during the movement of foreigners.
A delegation led by Finance Minister AMA Muhith flew to Tokyo on December 7 to highlight the measures. On return, Muhith announced at a press conference that Japan decided to lift the travel alert issued for Japanese nationals regarding visits to Bangladesh.
Senior ERD Secretary Mohammad Mejbahuddin told journalists that Japan was now fully satisfied with the security of their officials in Bangladesh. A little time was needed for everything to be normal, he said.
Foolproof security measures have been taken in the projects for building new bridges in Kanchpur, Meghna and Meghna-Gumti on Dhaka-Chittagong highway.
The projects are worth Tk 8,487 crore and Japan is providing Tk 6,429 crore as soft loan.
Apart from deploying about 400 policemen and Ansar personnel, a 24-hour surveillance system has been put in place with close-circuit and night vision cameras. Walls, watch towers and archways had been built.
“There are also patrol teams in the rivers,” Project Director Saidul Haq told The Daily Star, adding that all foreigners in the projects were working.
Saidul, an additional chief engineer of Roads and Highways Department, said they regularly hold meetings with police and foreign experts to discuss security.
The metro rail project has also gained pace after a few months of slow going. All the Japanese involved in the project had left before and after the July 1 Gulshan cafe attack but most of them returned in September.
They have returned also to show that they are sincere and professional and that they intend to finish the 20km Metro Rail project, named Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line-6, said a project official, adding that 12 Ansar members were deployed at the project's depot, and deployment of 40 others was underway.
Japan is providing Tk 16,594 crore as soft loan for the Tk 21,985 crore project.
An official of Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority, which looks after the mass transport projects, said Jica had been pressing for holding the negotiation meetings for MRT Line-6 project in Thailand instead of Bangladesh.
However, they changed their mind recently due to improvement in law and order. The meetings were being held in Dhaka, the official said.
“But they come for a short visit, hold the meeting, and leave,” said the official seeking anonymity.
The 20km MRT Line-6 will connect Airport and Kamalapur via Kuril, Pragati Sarani, Malibagh and the eastern side of Rajarbagh Police Lines.
The terror attacks seriously hampered the Tk 2,943 crore City Governance Project under which streets, drainage systems and street lights were being improved in five city corporations -- Gazipur, Rangpur, Chittagong, Narayanganj, and Comilla.
“Most of the foreigners in this project were Japanese. They left Bangladesh in June and July last but have started coming back,” Project Director Shahjahan Molla told The Daily Star, adding that the project, for which Japan was providing Tk 2,398 crore as soft loan, was getting back its momentum.
He, however, said the team leader of the foreigners had resigned and left.
Senior officials of the finance ministry, chiefs of police and the coast guard along with top officials of Japanese embassy visited the site of Matarbari power plant near Maheshkhali in November. Japanese representatives were pleased to see the deployment of police personnel and members of Ansar and the coast guard at the site, said an official concerned.
Officials of the Tk 34,984 crore project, for which Japan is providing Tk 28,939 crore, said additional security personnel would be deployed there considering the vast area and duration of the project.
Some foreign consultants were working but staying in Dhaka. They and others were expected to visit the site areas soon, added the officials.
Most other projects have already been brought under new security arrangements, according to officials concerned.
Inspector General of Police Shahidul Hoque said police were providing all sorts of support to ensure security in project sites and for those working there.
"Police and project officials are meeting time to time to determine what kind of security measures should be taken," the police boss told The Daily Star last night.
Since Bangladesh's independence, Japan has consistently been providing soft loans and grants. The amount of annual commitment was about $700 million a year. It was likely to become about $1 billion a year from this year.