Wasi Ahmed

Padma: Not just the bridge we tend to think

July 25, 2012

padma-bridgeTalking about Padma the other day a colleague of mine, an elderly and an erudite one, came up with an utterly new piece of analysis. Try as I did to disagree, I must thank him for the ingenuity with which he was able to firm up his analysis.

What he said was that everything that emerged since the World Bank’s scrapping of the credit line – the reactions of the government, the series of statements from various quarters, especially those from the prime minister herself, the finance minister’s seeking various options and finally (sadly!) the resignation of Syed Abul Hossain from the cabinet – are all part of a compact power play the government has been playing knowingly and methodically. Yes, the key message he conveyed was ‘method’, a vastly convoluted term to imply so many things at a time.

Better drop the analysis here lest I meddle with it too much.

There are few questions that citizens like me, unworthy of finding rational clues for an innovative analysis, would want to have answers. Why did Syed Abul Hossain resign (SAH)? Why is the finance minister, almost in defiance of what the prime minister has been saying so strongly to build the bridge at own expense, looking for other options including donor funding? Is the government after so much of drumbeating finally resigning to accept – yes accept – the allegations of corruption? Finally … let’s drop that too for now.

Chances that Syed Abul Hossain resigned on his own are almost nil. Given the hullabaloo over the issue, that too over the largest infrastructure project of the country, he could have merrily walked home around a year back, long before the WB’s press statement mentioned of the now-famous ‘credible evidence’ of corruption. Resigning from the office of the Republic over a controversy does not in any way incriminate the person in the offence he may be alleged with. But he remained resolute, more than himself – the government wouldn’t have allowed that to happen as it was challenging the least link of corruption with the appointment of the consultant for the bridge project. What he has mentioned as reason for his resignation is not known. The finance minister made a brief statement ruling out as usual the charges of ‘credible evidence’, but what he uttered reflected a flip flop no one expected in so simple terms. He said the resignation was to fulfil the WB condition. This was too much opening up of one’s heart, perhaps naively.

syed-abul-hossain-comm-ministerSince his initial blast, the FM for over a fortnight or so, is visibly at work on a broad agenda to source funds for the bridge. There is more than an obvious divide in what he has been working on and what a determined PM has been announcing. The PM sounded candid, she had a single agenda – having the bridge built with own money; asking the WB for money sensed something of a pathological hatred. The FM’s agenda, rather arbitrarily, had more than one thing under its fold. In fact, he had and perhaps still has, four options to weigh out. The first one is to reinstate the credit agreement with the World Bank, the second is to go with the other three donors and someone new, if available. The third is to execute the project under PPP (Public Private Partnership). And the final option, he told the media at the secretariat, ‘is to construct the Padma bridge with own fund as the Prime Minister had announced.’ Isn’t the divide too clear to see? Conspicuous indeed is the rating in priority of the PM’s announcement – the last, if no other options work out. Is this a sign of going one’s own way no matter where the journeys are destined?

Now coming to whether the government has at last resigned to accept the WB allegation need not be answered squarely. The WB wanted the former minister out of office on alleged charges (of corruption). The FM is saying he has resigned not because of the alleged charges but to fulfil WB condition. What then was the WB condition? Remove him, we’ve charges against him.

This is a dismal scenario; far too pathetic one can feel pity for. Aren’t we at all in a position to see things as they, in their starkly bare forms, look like? Is it all about ego sacrificing national priority to individual caprices? And honour, we were drumming up honour. Mind you, honour-killing is a practice some societies, tribes to be exact, prefer when things get too wrong to sustain the tribe’s honour at stake. Now, the final question that I left blank with dots: is this the way we protect honour?

The tribes practicing honour-killing know it by their very basic instincts.

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Wasi Ahmed is a journalist, short story writer and novelist.

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25 Responses to “ Padma: Not just the bridge we tend to think ”

  1. Bazlur Rahman on July 28, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    To construct the Padma Bridge with own fund is a good decision but are we in the position to bear the burden? We have to import major materials from the foreign country and payment has to be made in foreign currency. Considering all the aspects we should keep in mind that emotion is not vital to all the cases rather we should go for logical path in constructing this infrastructure.

  2. Mozammel Haque on July 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    A poor man has no prestige.
    The rich/wealthy person can deal with him in any way they like.
    So the thing goes with WB and Padma bridge.
    It is mainly funded by US and this country is inhabited by multinational people and except Bangladeshi origin the rest of the people decide how US will deal with Bangladesh.
    So big power has no crime, no fault, no sin, no corruption.
    The other truth is -the right is might or vice versa the might is right.
    This Padma bridge issue is also a matter prestige and honor for this nation. The action taken- has become late to begin again. Still better than never.
    The opponents are happy- the other party cannot make it and they will make it if the public bring them to the power.
    They are not happy- the big projects of flyovers and four lanes are to be complete -because they want to do it if the public bring them into the power.
    We proved our low profile outlook because both A and B parties could not come to the unanimous decision to request WB to fund the bridge.
    This is because our leaders have the faith-the talent are minority and by democracy they do not have any vital role to bring any party to power rather the special voters’ bank and expert party workers active during the one day national election.
    It becomes a festival for them not the public who cast the vote for his candidate.
    We need change. This Padma bridge issue is teaching us this.

    • Ezajur Rahman on August 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm

      A poor nation can have prestige it conducts itself deservedly. A rich country can have the depth of character to deal with a poor country respectfully. The US is free to spend its own money as it chooses on its own terms – and its own values. The maxim applicable here is simply: stupid is as stupid does. And we are the stupid ones. If the ruling party was in opposition it would behave exactly like the opposition party is behaving now.

      The Padma Bridge debacle proves that a little education is a dangerous thing. I am referring to us of course – not the US :)

  3. Md. Akhtar Hossain on July 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Padma Bridge is going to be impossible to build day by day, due to inconsistent statements of the Government. The Prime Minster’s aggressive statement in London and seeking for restatement of the World Bank’s loan is quite contradictory. This very statement of the Prime Minster may lead to far from getting World Bank’s loan. Though the PM is vowing for local fund, without ensuring detailed fund availability the foundation stone may be laid or a pillar may be constructed but it would not be completed. So the govt should try for World Banks fund.

    One more thing, the PM not said the truth in London. She said that the WB was pursuing for a firm to get work which Abul Hossain had refused and he was asked to resign.

    But the fact is that the World Bank had requested for a Chinese firm to be enlisted for the short listing in the main bridge construction which the Government had denied.

    But the Abul Hossain allegation came in the Construction Supervision Consultant’s award in which his firm SACO was said to be influencing in selecting SNC Lavalin.

    So there are two things, one is, the short listing of Main Bridge Construction which WB requested for and other is the Construction Supervision Consultants appointments.

    The two things have been blended by the PM. The WB has never requested for any firm as regards to the appointment of the Supervision Consultants in which Abul Hossain is involved.

    This is for clarification.

    • Ezajur Rahman on August 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm

      The PM, having a god like stature in her own party, is behaving more and more like a powerful Queen. She can say and do whatever she wants. Not one of her supporters dares to disagree with her. Same for the opposition leader. The Bangladeshi policial male behaves more and more like a eunuch with each passing day.

  4. ke khalid on July 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    One thing is just not understandable that why our top brasses are considering everybody around are just idiots? What is fact is understood by anybody with a little brain and why the popular leaders are pretending? This pretension is costing the nation and that of creditability of our leaders. Let us call a bygone a bygone.

  5. abool on July 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    “World prank” has turned it into the “pool seraat”. We the hapless people hapless can only ask Allah, “why, why, why, why… why burn the bridge… what is the war for… why, why, why, why…”

  6. Imran on July 27, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Inept politics and clueless politicians making us all look like big idiots to the rest of the world. Really ashamed to hear/ read/ see the rhetoric of our so-called leaders. I think they should all retire and new breed of leaderships ought to lead us out of this kind of diabolical mess.

    • Ezajur Rahman on August 14, 2012 at 6:18 pm

      Perfectly and profoundly said.

  7. sujit on July 27, 2012 at 1:43 am

    Thumbs up on the piece of work. You have obviously pointed out curious gaps often overlooked by most people. I would love to criticize a surcharge option for the project if any such thing were to happen. But the PPP is logically a good option. But we can all count on Awami League to display a final wave of magic before the elections. Poor FM indeed, he’s just a rag doll.

  8. Ananya Rahman on July 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Let’s stick to the plan of building a bridge by ourselves. We can do it. Let’s show the world what we can do.

  9. aman on July 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    I think we have sacrificed Abul Hosain. But will it gain any fruitful result? I have my doubts.

  10. Chowdhury Abul Hasan on July 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    A very well written article. I think the government is making a mess out of it. And I don’t think the World Bank will return. We are on our own.

    • Syed Siddiqui on July 27, 2012 at 1:39 am

      How can you term it as an article? Just another piece of midnight talkshow. Sorry for you brother. Stop writing and use your talents somewhere else. Keep fasting pray to Allah so that He helps us to build the Bridge.

  11. Chowdhury Abul Hasan on July 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    I think the government has taken a very poor step. If Abul Hosain is innocent then he shouldn’t have had resigned. His resignation does speak of the fact that the World Bank was probably right about the corruption accusation.

    A good piece by the way.

  12. bashirul haq on July 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    If Abul Hosain is a clean man then why did he resign? There must be something going on.

  13. Akram Hossain on July 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Nice piece. Good read.

  14. Mahfooz on July 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    The Finance Minister has finally seen the light of the day as far as Padma Bridge is concerned. All the patriotic yelling and nationalistic histrionics may do many things, but one thing they cannot simply do is to find billions of $$$$$s @ 0.75% interest rate. In 1971 we fought a common enemy by arms supplied by our allies. Without those arms and logistical support, the war would have ended as Titu Mir’s Bamboo Fortress did against the cannon balls of the British.

    Wars are won on logistics and bridges are made on money, not on words and hysterics of the demagogues.

    The moot points are simple:

    1. The Padma Bridge, to be viable, has to be funded by concessionary financing from our development partners.

    2. Any other alternative financing will cost just too much in order to make it an economically viable proposition.

    3. Any attempt to make it out of our own resources will be an economic suicide and a social disaster for this nation. [Already the first 'martyr' has been sacrificed by the Chatra League executioners at the Rajshahi Uni. Many more 'bali-dans' will be needed in order to placate the angry Goddess of the Padma. One may consult, Mr. S. Sengupta to enlighten us on this aspect, since, being without portfolio, among all issues under the sun, he is most vocal on this issue.]

    At the least, the Finance Minister seems to have understood the economic and social compulsions that this mother of all bridges evokes for this hapless country.

    Kudos to Mr. Muith on his realization albeit late.

    Mahfooz

    • Sujit on July 27, 2012 at 1:37 am

      I agree with most of the comments, but somehow I think the PPP could be made useful here instead of putting on surcharges. Selling bonds for the project where people which would transfer ownership to common people like you and me is fine enough when a yearly return is obvious.

      • Mahfooz on July 30, 2012 at 12:25 am

        Mr Sujit,
        Many people who are not familiar with PPP, Sovereign Bond and selling some kind of bond to our millions of working class wage-earners abroad are under the impression that these alternate financing are 1:1 replaceable sources of funding, same as concessionary lending terms of WB Consortium. These alternatives need elaborate analysis to understand. For lack of space, I shall simply point out the daunting difficulties:

        1. PPP: The private CO/s would like to take out their profits and principal amounts as much as possible and as early as possible. They are least concerned with our ‘development’ or degradation, they would want their money and some more. Thus we hear no more of the Malaysian financing though the GOB had signed a MOU with them at one time with great hype and fan fare, now deathly silence. Same story goes for China Co and Qatar Sheikh: Non-starters before they started!

        2. Sovereign Bond: S.Lanka with a better credit rating floated bonds for $500 mil @ 7.5% or so. We will need to pay more, perhaps 8-9%; add costs of floating in the international money market, making it at least 10%. With a poor CPI (Corruption Perception Index, that the Japanese Ambassador mentioned the other day as ‘not recommendable’ for Bangladesh) perhaps another 1-2 PC point is to be added – very, very expensive indeed!

        3. Wage Earners Bond: There are 3 WE Bonds running at the moment with VERY poor response. These poor people send money home for their families’ expenses and to pay for debts that they incurred for ‘buying’ visas. They hardly have any money to invest in long term bonds. Even if they have, they would expect the same rate of interest as of S. Bond. Most unlikely option!

        $. From BB FE reserve: India with a reserve of around $200 billion NEVER uses this fund for development projects and we have scarcely $10 billion. Perhaps fools will jump where angels fear to tread! Disastrous option!

        All these make these “alternative and creative” financing non-viable in economic terms. The added costs, if resorted to, will make the bridge a white elephant with very high toll rate. Then the Govt will have to pay subsidies to the vehicles crossing the Bridge, making it a burden and not an asset for the people of Bangladesh that they will have to carry over and above the high tax burden. The last straw on the camel’s back?

        All those who are crying hoarse on self-reliance, national pride etc (already we are marked as most corrupt in the international market place, in spite of all the crying ‘foul play and conspiracy syndrome’) must prove the viability of the project under own financing. The people of Bangladesh deserve to know the whole story and the consequences.

        Most importantly: The WB has publicly stated that they have provided ‘credible evidence’ of corruption to the GOB. So: MAKE PUBLIC THE WB LETTERS WITH ATTACHMENTS THAT THE GOB RECEIVED.

        If not, grave doubt and CPI will remain to cloud the entire drama, making it a tragi-comedy.

        Lastly, the Dhaka Chittagong highway modifications (not new highway, one must note) have achieved just about 20% in 3 and half years of great patriotic efforts of the likes of Abul. Honestly, how many years the people may expect the ‘Mother of All Bridges in Bangladesh’ to take in order to see the light of the day? I leave it up to the readers to ponder right up to Sehri Time tonight and come to a reasonable number!

        Unfortunately, the tragic protagonists of this story will be the hapless people of Bangladesh, being hoodwinked and deceived once again, and as usual. But don’t worry, they are used to it; as they are to killing cyclones and all-submerging floods, yet surviving, yet breathing, by the Grace of Allah alone.

        Mahfooz

    • Mahboob on July 28, 2012 at 8:51 am

      A masterpiece with good sense of humour as well.

  15. Kalam Ahmed on July 26, 2012 at 11:54 am

    A confusing write-up. I could not get the point. Perhaps the writer was attempting humour, and if so, he has failed badly. He needs to work on his presentation and timing.

    • Nadira Chawdhury on July 26, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      I don’t think the writer was at all attempting humour, and if at all, dark humour. I fully agree with Wasi Ahmed that the latest development on Padma is not about a bridge that needs to be built but more about how our politicians can spoilsport national honour. Yes, the writer was reticent and was more prone to imply than speak out loudly. A very suggestive piece.

  16. Iqbal Hossain Eram on July 26, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Why the government was is such hurry? Is there any side story?

  17. Golam Arshad on July 25, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Wasi: Just pen down more to come… spinning in co lase do not drive the bull to its cage!!

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