Abul termed 'less than honest'
Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain last year told former US ambassador in Dhaka James F Moriarty that development of transport infrastructure in Bangladesh was critical to Awami League's re-election chances, according to cables leaked by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
“Bangladesh's communications minister, who is responsible for the nation's bridges, roads and rail, told the ambassador that completing major infrastructure projects in southwest, southeast and northern Bangladesh was critical to Awami League's re-election chances,” WiKiLeaks said based on Moriarty's cable in February, 2010.
Terming Abul Hossain “a less than honest” man in his business dealings, the ex-envoy said the minister remained focused on delivering the infrastructure projects he and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have promised to Bangladesh voters.
Moriarty, who completed his service in Bangladesh and departed on June 17 this year, sent the cable to the US following his conversation with the communications minister at a dinner party on Feb 3 last year.
WikiLeaks leaked the cables involving Abul Hossain's affairs in its latest releases on Aug 30.
In his cable, Moriarty also described Abul Hossain's reputed ties with China.
He said the minister also told him about progress on road projects in south-eastern and northern Bangladesh, and requested the US government's support for an elevated road project in Dhaka.
PADMA BRIDGE -- ONE STRUCTURE OR TWO?
At a dinner, Abul Hossain expressed satisfaction with the levels of support donors planned to provide for the Padma Bridge project, which will for the first time link the country's southwestern region with the capital.
According to the minister, for the project the World Bank pledged $1.5 billion, the ADB $550 million, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) $500 million, and the Islamic Development Bank $130 million, primarily in soft loans.
However, the minister complained that JICA was insisting on dividing the contract for the bridge itself into two parts: a contract for the bridge's sub-structure and another for the super-structure.
Under this plan JICA's loan would fund the sub-structure. Bangladesh government, WB, ADB and others opposed this plan on the grounds that a single over-arching contract for the bridge itself would limit competing claims of liability in the event of future problems.
Abul Hossain said the Japanese proposal would allow two different contractors to lay the blame for any problems on the other contractor.
He asked the ambassador to use his good offices with Japan and the US government support for the World Bank and ADB to urge JICA to reconsider its stance.
Abul Hossain and the ambassador agreed there were many companies interested in bidding on the Padma Bridge project.
The ambassador added that one US firm had demonstrated interest in the river dredging portion of the project and that there were sure to be more US companies stepping forward as the bidding process progressed.
The other two linchpins in the minister's infrastructure-for-elections plan are expanding roads from Dhaka to Chittagong and Dhaka to Mymensingh, Moriarty told in his summary.
Abul Hossain also urged the US government to support a Dhaka infrastructure project that would be tangible proof of the strong US-Bangladesh relationship.
The transport boss described several initiatives to modernise the country's decrepit railways.
In addition to expanding the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, the minister said construction to broaden the single rail line between the two cities to a double rail line would begin within a couple of months.
He said the prime minister had also tasked him with developing an elevated rail system in Dhaka to alleviate the city's traffic crisis.
According to the minister, JICA had expressed interest in loaning funds for the $3 billion project; alternatively, the elevated rail system could be a public-private partnership project.
Finally, he explained plans to transform Bangladesh Railway into an independent, though government-owned, entity from its current structure as a government-run enterprise.
The former US envoy said the minister was clearly determined to fulfil his mission to develop infrastructure with a view to improving connectivity and securing votes for Awami League.