Better late than never
Between September last year and September this year, it is not just one year lost in the Padma bridge project. The World Bank's loan revival process will take some more time. All the while, the cost of the project is going up in many ways.
Nevertheless, better late than never.
The cost escalation and delay are punishment for the nation. But it is still way better than the other options that the government was toying with to find alternative funding. These attempts were apparently immature, faulty, profiteering and aimed at personal benefits of some people.
But firstly, could the government have handled the affair better?
Ex-communication minister Abul Hossain resigned from the cabinet in July only after the World Bank cancelled its loan on June 29.
But had he been removed from the communication ministry soon after the bank suspended its loan in September last year to make the World Bank happy, many other conditions of the bank would not have emerged. Even the departure of Abul Hossain would have looked dignified.
Then when a second chance came after Abul's resignation, the World Bank wanted deactivation of Prime Minister's Financial Adviser Mashiur Rahman. He, however, refused to do so. The prime minister backed him against everyone else's opinions.
All of it unnecessarily wasted a year. After all, the government eventually accepted the World Bank conditions. Then why did it waste time?
The only justification of wasting this time was harbouring a false pride that Bangladesh did not bow down to World Bank's pressure. But even Awami League working committee members trashed this argument saying that the bridge project was more important than two policymakers.
In September, 2011, when the World Bank temporarily suspended the loan bringing graft allegation, it asked the government that Abul Hossain be removed from the communication ministry. The prime minister acted reluctantly and in December moved Abul to the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.
But this time, the World Bank demanded that Abul be dropped from the cabinet saying that he played dubious role in selecting the supervisory firm for the main bridge construction.
The government's reluctance remained.
All the while, the nation saw a sudden emergence of Malaysia in the Padma bridge deal as a prospective donor. But despite all fanfare, the Malaysian proposals turned out to be empty.
After a few months' interval in June the World Bank and the government started fresh talks over the financing.
This time, the World Bank imposed four conditions including sending on leave the public officials accused of corruption, including the removal of Prime Minister's Financial Adviser Mashiur.
A high official said a World Bank team stayed in Dhaka for four days and their discussions with the government on the first three days went on the positive note. The government had showed readiness to accept all conditions.
But on the fourth day, things went wrong.
Initially, the government was ready to accept removal of Mashiur. But at the last moment, due to a hard line stance of the top level of the government, it changed its mind and this led to the loan cancellation.
After the initial shock, Finance Minister AMA Muhith talked about reviving the loan and Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs Adviser Gowher Rizvi also started hectic lobbying for the World Bank loan.
Their efforts were soon reinforced by the Asian Development Bank and Japan International Cooperation Agency, India and the USA. While they persuaded the World Bank, they wanted an assurance from the government that it would fulfil all unmet World Bank conditions.
The ADB and Jica are partners in the bridge project finance and they extended their loan effectuation deadline five times.
But still the government delayed taking actions, especially on deactivating Mashiur.
ADB's latest loan effectuation deadline ends on September 30. Jica's was supposed to end yesterday but sources said Jica would extend the deadline.
Luckily, the government in the end weighed the benefits of getting the low interest of World Bank loan and fulfilled its conditions.
According to a finance ministry official, if donor financing was not ensured, the government would have had to implement the project with its own resources.
The government opened two accounts for collecting funds from people. Until last week, not a single taka was deposited by citizens. Only $1,000 was received in the foreign currency account.
For the Awami League, the cloud is still not clear. The Canadian government is investigating the scam of Canadian company SNC-Lavalin bribing Bangladeshi officials to secure its deal.
The hearing of the case starts next April. If Lavalin is found guilty, the Awami League would have to shoulder the blame of corruption.
But it was still better than not securing the bridge loan. The Lavalin case, if the company is found guilty, would affect the Awami League anyway. In addition, the party would look defeated before the nation for failing to begin the bridge construction. The success of which would surely give the Awami League political leverage.