Govt now focuses on alternatives
A day after the World Bank scrapped the loan agreement for the Padma bridge construction, the government said it had “alternative sources” to finance the largest infrastructure project of the country.
“We have alternative sources ready for financing the project,” Communications Minister Obaidul Quader told The Daily Star yesterday.
“The bridge construction will start within the stipulated time,” said Quader, who recently reiterated that the work would begin by February next year.
Malaysia has already given a final draft proposal while two other sources are also ready. One is Qatar and another is “one of the powerhouses in Asia”, the minister said without mentioning any other country or organisation by name.
A high official source said the government would seek help from China, which has already shown interest in the second Padma bridge across Paturia-Daulatdia.
The source claimed that Beijing had been keeping in touch with Dhaka, aiming at getting involved in the project ever since the WB suspended the loan agreement in September last year.
Quader, who is also railway minister, said, “If Malaysia gives a final proposal, we will review it thoroughly and see whether the interests of Bangladesh have been protected. We will go for a final deal with it only if we find things positive.”
“But if the negotiations with Malaysia fail to prioritise our national, economic and public interests, we will go for other options which are also ready,” he said.
The minister claimed that a group of intellectuals appearing on television talk shows were giving a false impression of interest rates for the Malaysian funds.
“It's not correct that Bangladesh will have to pay 2 to 3 percent interest for the Malaysian loan,” said Quader, adding that there was no such provision in the Malaysian proposal so far.
“Malaysia will bring funds, construct the bridge, operate it for a certain period of time and hand it over to the government. So there is no option for paying a high interest.”
The minister hoped the toll rates for the bridge would be tolerable for the common people and the operating time would also be much less than what had been set.
Quader said a surprise was waiting for those who kept saying before its birth that the “Padma baby” would be lame and blind.
The minister said he was hopeful about Malaysian funding.
About the World Bank decision to cancel the loan, the minister said the WB had extended time until July 27 to review the loan agreement.
“But on what ground did they cancel it suddenly [on June 30] before the end of the deadline they themselves had fixed?”
The Daily Star learnt yesterday that the WB had recommended sending the persons, allegedly involved in graft, on leave by June 30.
Asked about it, the minister said the WB could not impose such conditions on any of its member countries.
The government's door was open for discussions and negotiations with the bank, he said.
But the global lender on its own closed the door by taking a unilateral decision at a time when a probe was going on against those allegedly involved in the corruption.
The government had removed the persons against whom graft allegations had been brought, from departments and the helm of a ministry related to the project to ensure a fair investigation.
The WB cannot hand out punishment before the probe ends.
“As they [WB] have closed the door, we are now open to the alternative sources,” he said.
The minister added that 97 percent of the preparatory work for the Padma bridge was complete and construction could commence after the signing of a deal with any of the alternative sources.