Padma Bridge decision unlikely by Jan says WorldBank Official

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Padma Bridge decision unlikely by Jan says WorldBank Official

Decision unlikely by Jan

Outgoing WB country chief says govt free to go for alternative Padma funding; feels proud of anti-graft role

World Bank Country Director Ellen Goldstein yesterday said she is unsure whether the bank's decision on the financing of the Padma bridge project would come in a month.

She also said the Bangladesh government is free to go for alternative sources of funding to build the bridge.

"...And certainly a decision will be taken. Will it be in a month, I can't say for sure," Goldstein told reporters at a press briefing at the National Economic Council auditorium in the capital.

The briefing was organised to share the results of midterm review of the WB's 2010-2014 country assistance programme.

She said many Bangladeshis stop her in streets and in shops to thank her for taking a strong stance against corruption.

Goldstein's comment came two days after Finance Minister AMA Muhith said the government sought a decision from the WB by this month on whether the global lender would finance the bridge project.

Muhith told reporters that the government would look for alternative sources of financing if the WB does not give its decision by this month.

The WB country director said the timing of the WB's decision depends on when the WB external panel receives replies to the queries it had sent to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The external panel was appointed by the WB to assess the conduct of the ACC's investigation into the corruption allegations in the project.

"We are waiting for the response from the Anti-Corruption Commission. The panel is waiting."

She said the panel will make its assessment report after receiving response from the ACC.

"After that the co-financiers will have to give some thought to where things stand now."

Mentioning that she appreciates the urgency of the government, Goldstein said, "This is a question of the conduct of the investigation and will depend on the pace of investigation and the pace of response we get."

"What I can say is that of course the government is always free to go ahead and find alternative ways for this project and for any project."

She said the government has to decide its priorities and which projects it will finance from internal or external resources.

"That is within their decision making," said Goldstein, whose tenure as WB country director for Bangladesh expires at the end of this month.

She said the review meeting was her last public event as WB country director in Dhaka.

"My name will probably always be associated with the Padma bridge project and with the World Bank's insistence on a serious investigation of corruption evidence under that project."

"And I know this because Bangladeshis now stop me in the streets, in shops to thank me for taking a strong stance against corruption. And they know that integrity among politicians and public servants is really going to set the tone for all of Bangladeshi society."

"We know this is not an overnight change. This is a long-term change. But people are tired of public resources not being used for the purposes for which they are intended and not being used to accelerate growth when this country has amazing potential for growth and prosperity of its citizens."

"So, it is not just through this very widely publicised stance on the bridge project that the bank has really sought to build this issue of domestic accountability," said Goldstein.

Abul Kalam Azad, secretary of Economic Relations Division, said the government wants to ensure transparency. He, however, asked whether it would be appropriate to stop a development work on the question of transparency.

"We have to look into it. We want to eliminate all the rocks in front of us. Is it possible always? Or…I bypass the rock and find my ways. So, we have to find out whether we want to have the development work or not," he said.