ACC quizzes Abul over Padma graft
Anti-Corruption Commission officials said investigation into the alleged corruption in Padma bridge project would continue even though former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain denied irregularities in the project's bidding process.
Two separate teams of the ACC--one investigating the project's main bridge construction component and the other the appointment of a supervising firm to oversee the construction--quizzed Abul at his Gulshan home for about an hour on Tuesday.
The officials also recorded statements of the experts involved in the project's tender evaluation process and are expected to submit their reports soon.
“We are also going through various documents of the project and asked participating companies to show evidence if there were any irregularities in the bidding procedures,” said one of the officials involved in questioning Abul.
“We quizzed Abul Hossain to know what he has to say in self-defence as the allegations involve his name,” the official said before mentioning the minister's denial of the allegation.
This is for the first time an incumbent minister in Bangladesh has been quizzed by the ACC on corruption charges. His party, the Awami League, is ruling the country with absolute majority.
Abul was removed from the communications ministry earlier this month and was given the ICT ministry.
The anti-graft body officials claimed that it was their own decision to quiz Abul in the investigation initiated following weeks of media outcry and a World Bank letter to the finance ministry regarding the corruption allegation.
Abul had told the ACC officials that no individual or organisation in the world would be able to prove corruption in the Padma bridge project.
“I maintained the highest level of transparency and honesty in my work during my time as the communications minister. None can prove irregularities in my activities,” he told The Daily Star over the telephone yesterday.
He said the government can release all documents of his work on the internet so that everyone can judge. “Inshallah, truth will be revealed in future and you will see how transparent and honest I am.”
The WB in November this year, in an official reply to the ACC, hinted that officials of Canadian SNC-Lavalin, a bidder for the main bridge's construction supervision job, agreed with government officials on paying money to obtain the job.
Following the WB's request, Canadian police is investigating the allegation against Lavalin.
Earlier, the WB, the lead financier of the project, suspended its funding in the project bringing allegation of corruption against Abul, stalling construction of the much-cherished bridge.
The WB is providing $1.2 billion, Asian Development Bank $615 million, Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) $400 million and Islamic Development Bank $140 million for construction of the bridge.
An investigation report by the Integrity Vice-Presidency (INT) of WB Group revealed that Abul and senior representatives of his family-owned company SAHCO tried to coerce multiple companies into using SAHCO as a paid "silent agent" for getting permission to bid for the main bridge contract.
Companies failing to cooperate were threatened with retaliation, said the report. As these witnesses feared physical and economic reprisal, they only spoke to INT with the promise of confidentiality. INT interviewed representatives of multiple companies.
WB's Integrity Vice-President Leonard F McCarthy, on September 21, handed over a highly confidential letter and the INT report to Finance Minister AMA Muhith in Washington.
In vehement rejection of the report Abul then said some foreign companies and their local agents, who had been rejected by the technical evaluation committee, made up stories and fed the WB so that the project is delayed and a scope for re-tender is created.
On SAHCO, he said, “The company is not new, it has been around for a while and has been involved in business with reputation. Since my resignation from the post of the managing director of the company following my appointment as a minister, SAHCO has been run by a competent Board of Directors and officials."
The 6.15km-long bridge over the Padma and 3.68km approach roads on both the sides will connect the country's 19 south-western districts with the capital. The bridge will have road traffic on the upper level and rail on the lower.
The feasibility study and design of the Padma bridge were completed in 2010 and the construction work was supposed to begin this year with a target of finishing it by 2014.
The government by this time has spent over Tk 1,000 crore for the design, land acquisition, compensation and rehabilitation of the affected people.