The tug of war between the World Bank and the Bangladesh government over the question of graft in the bidding process of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project has come to a difficult pass when the world lending organisation, regrettably, took a decision which is not conducive to the infrastructure development of the country. The difference between the two parties, curiously, did not surface over the outcome of the investigation into the alleged corruption, rather over a few conditions set by the world body. Earlier the WB sought that all public officials suspected of involvement in the corruption scheme should be placed on leave until the investigation was over, a special inquiry team within the Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission should be appointed to handle this particular issue and a panel appointed by the Bank should be provided with full and adequate access to all investigative information. The government obviously did not find it reasonable to accept the conditions in full and conveyed its inability to go by them. Based on these disagreements, the WB scrapped the $1.2 billion credit agreement, which is very unfortunate.
It is appreciable that the government made a critical appreciation of the terms and conditions and did not hesitate to express its stance on the relevant issue. But it was also expected that the government handled the matter more judiciously to avoid such a development which, Heaven forbid, may lead to a strained relationship between the two. This incident has no doubt tarnished the image of the country internationally. However, we also cannot help noticing the haste with which the WB reached the above decision without waiting for the completion of the investigation though it was completely aware about the importance of the bridge for the development of the country. The WB decision, we apprehend, may influence other development partners in a negative manner.
As a principle, there is nothing wrong with searching by a country for alternative sources of finance. But the way the government tried to come to an agreement with a third party for the construction of the same Padma Bridge might have a role in hastening the process for the WB to take the decision. Moreover, the construction of the bridge with support from alternative sources other than the WB may not be feasible because, in that case, the cost would be much bigger. However, the time is not over yet for finding a common position and re-fixing everything for the benefit of the country. And what is more important, this unexpected turn of the event should not be allowed to stand in the way of continued support from the World Bank for all ongoing and future development efforts of the country.