By Sankar Ray
Inauguration of nine km long ‘Padma Setu’ on the mighty River Padma on June 25 by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sk Hasina will be perhaps the brightest feather on the cap of her government. Built at an estimated cost of lithe over Taka 30,000 crore is a sound slap on the face of World Bank which arbitrarily cancelled the $1.2 billion IDA credit in support of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project in 2012 when the implementation of the project was at the initial stage. It also exposes the US imperialism to whose tune the WB and International Monetary Fund dance.
The Bank issued a statement on 29 June 2012 alleging that it had ‘has credible evidence corroborated by a variety of sources which points to a high-level corruption conspiracy among Bangladeshi government officials, SNC Lavalin executives, and private individuals’. The Bank’s highhandedness was embossed in demanding that the Bangladesh government “(i) place all public officials suspected of involvement in the corruption scheme on leave from Government employment until the investigation is completed; (ii) appoint a special inquiry team within the ACC to handle the investigation, and (iii) agree to provide full and adequate access to all investigative information to a panel appointed by the World Bank comprising internationally recognized experts so that the panel can give guidance to the lenders on the progress, adequacy, and fairness of the investigation.” Such diktat to a sovereign government, was something unprecedented.
Interestingly a short while back Canadian court recently found no evidence of the alleged corruption. So it is proved that the IBRD took an arbitrary decision that cost Bangladesh financially and damaged its image internationally. This has exposed the Bank .Little wonder public anger has been outpouring against the World Bank demanding its accountability in the mass media. There is a growing demand that the Bank cough up compensation and a judicial probe. to identify falsifiers’
The ruling Awami League-led government with Hasina as the PM was left with no option other than taking on the extremely tough and complicated challenge of building it through-self financing. She was solidly backed by the Bangladesh Arthaneeti Samiti (Bangladesh Economists’ Association) which organised on 19 July 2012 a national seminar, captioned ‘nijo arthe Padma Setu’ ( self-financed Padma Bridge where Dr Abul Barkat, formerly head of the department of economics, Dhaka University placed a 39-page paper on details of self-financing the prestigious project.
The BAS has not been unanimous in supporting Dr Barkat’s paper although they comprise a small minority. Dr Barkat’s paper was published in 2012 – ‘Nijaswa Arthayane Padma Setu: Jatiyo Oikya Srishtir Shreshtha Sujog (Padma Bridge through self-financing- best opportunity in building national unity). Its second edition was published by Muktobuddhi Prakashan of Dhaka.
The PM at a meeting of Awami League advisory board on 2 June at her residence Ganabhaban in Dhaka squarely criticized the Nobel laureate and founder-chairman of Bangladesh Grameen Bank, Prof Mohd Yunus for prompting World Bank to stop funding in the project. Prof Yunus apart, pro-Khaleda Zia political leaders and intellectuals ridiculed Barkat’s paper. Even the noted Maoist intellectual and writer Badruddin Umar, whose hatred towards Bangabandhu Sk Mujibur Rahman is pathological also said and wrote that the concept of building the Padma Setu was ill-advised.
Rashed Khan Menon, chairman of Workers Party of Bangladesh, second largest Leftist party and a member of Jatiyo Sangsad (national parliament), made a blistering attack against the world bank in the parliament on 8 June and highly praised Prof Barkat. He reminded all that in July his party wholeheartedly supported Prime Minister Hasina’s resolve to build Padma Setu through self-financing. On the accusation that corruption and corrupt elements dominate the implementing authority of Padma Setu, he said it was the free market economy that the World Bank inspires is the proven cause of corruption in many countries. Furthermore, the very statement by the then US Ambassador in Bangladesh proved that at the instance of Mohd Yunus, the former US Vice President Hillary Clinton became instrumental in cancelation of IDA credit.
The USA which is the largest shareholder with a de facto veto power on the decision-making in the World Bank , exercises extraordinary and enormous power to dictate the World Bank ‘more often than not, as an institutional tool to advance US interests and serve the cause of allies. Bangladesh has become the latest victim of this too formidable political pressure and influence which presumably compelled the World Bank to decline the Padma bridge loan on flimsy pretext of perceived corruption that judicially proved to be non-existent,’ wrote Mizanur Rahman
What the Bank did to Padma Setu in Bangladesh was in keeping with its dirty tradition. It granted multiple loans to the apartheid regime of South Africa in the 1960s, despite the UN General Assembly resolution banning such loans. The Bank also approved a huge loan to Russia almost unconditionally when Boris Yeltsin was the Russian President. Yeltsin was an ally of western nations , especially the USA. . Hence Washington left no stone unturned to salvage him to deal with the problems of Russian economy.
During the first 50 years of Breton Woods between (1944–1993) the net transfer from debtors caused a loss of around US $500 billion a year in GDP as a consequence of neoliberal] policies’, revealed a report .’ The World Bank and the IMF, Australian Parliament Report, Canberra (1993)’. It indicts .,the World Bank IMF, for having been instrumental in expanding western capitalism, a role similar to what colonialism once played for rapid European development and industrialisation.. (IPA Service)