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_61885687_hasinatwo-shot“They suddenly raised the issue. I asked them myself give me proof and they could not give any substantial proof”. That was the response of the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina to the reporter from BBC programme “HARDtalk” during an interview on Monday, July 30, 2012. We will not quibble about “substantial” and take her word for it. I say fair enough, the World Bank did not give “substantial” proof of corruption but it did send a letter detailing its concerns and conditions along with the notification of cancellation of the Padma Bridge funding. So, if there was no substantial proof or allegation why not release the letter? As they say, sunshine is the best disinfectant and it is past time for the PM to pour some disinfectant on this festering infestation of allegations and innuendo! The way to dispel myths and speculation is to be forthright and transparent.

Alas, this is not forthcoming! In the same interview the Prime Minister categorically rejected the notion of releasing the letter. She simply said she would not release the letter. There were no explanation, no reasoning. But she did say World Bank could release the letter if they wanted to. So, this morning I called the World Bank and talked to one of their public affairs persons. Typically, these people are like mushrooms, i.e., they are kept in the dark and fed bull turd on silver platter. So, the person said it is the WB policy not to release any correspondence between itself and its client. It is telling that the WB thinks that the client is sovereign country as opposed to the people of the country. The rationale they invoked is this; a bank has to deal with financial data which can be confidential and sensitive and the Bank charter states that the bank will maintain its confidentiality above all.

So, yes there was a letter sent, and we surmise that the letter stated specific allegations of corruption and named names. But, we shall never know or so they think. The fact is that this letter is sitting on some server within the purview of the extremely porous and politically hobbled World Bank organisation. I will bet my last Sylheti Komola that it is coming out! It is not a matter of IF but WHEN this will hit the public domain. Under these circumstances, I think it would be wise for the PM and her people to release the letter. That way if nothing else the government can manage the release, the spin and hopefully the fallout.

I have written in some other article titled, “Yes we are corrupt, live with it”, about the need to admit that we are a relatively corrupt society for historical and governance reasons. The Prime Minister spent fair amount of time of the 4-minute interview talking about the past. She enumerated the corruption under the military regimes and of course under the BNP. Then she uttered these incredible words, “My government never indulgences in corruption”. Huh! Where did that come from? Indulge is very different from breathing. I submit to the Honourable Lady that corruption — big and small — in Bangladesh is more like breathing and entirely different than indulging! It is everywhere. The Speed Money, the Baksheesh, the actual graft for promotion and even the extra money required to pay to the doctor or the hospital staff to take care of one’s loved ones! I experienced the last one when my mother was dying of stomach cancer and the clinic let us know in so many words that we would need to make extra payment to the doctor, the attending nurse, etc. for care! Not additional care but just regular care. These are the indignities that people live with every day and it is definitely not indulgence that the country suffers from. The country suffers from lack of transparency and lack of resources that have a negative feedback loop. The less transparent you are, the more corrupt is your resource allocation and the more corrupt is your resource allocation, the less transparent you are! A perfect infinite negative feedback loop!

The Prime Minister pointed out the achievements of the country under her administration. She said the country has grown at 6+% year on year since she took office. She has increased power generation, etc. I happen to applaud the current government about the economic progress and substantial improvement in overall well-being of people. But, it is a matter of opportunity costs and not about absolute metric. There are analyses that show rampant corruption can lop off a percent or two of the GDP in a country that is in similar growth stage like Bangladesh. This means that on a compounded basis the country would be much farther along in terms of economic development and all other economic metrics if there was no or less corruption. But, we shall never know what the opportunity cost of corruption has been to Bangladesh.

The question is why stonewall the release of the WB letter? The reasonable answer is that the administration is trying to protect its political capital and appease powerful interests. At this point I am reminded of Winston Churchill who famously said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”. The crocodile of corruption has a one-way ticket to strength and mayhem unless checked quickly and snuffed out at an early stage. Admittedly it is not early stage but the battle can still be joined. The way to do that is transparency.

Madame Prime Minister it is not about the past or history. It is about the future and especially your own legacy. It is time to take a bold step and stop feeding the crocodile. I say, release the World Bank letter and let the chip fall where they may.

Kayes Ahmed lives in Boulder, Colorado, USA with his three dogs. He runs a small yet global apparel and design business based in Boulder.

23 Responses to “Fair enough, but release the World Bank letter Madame Prime Minister!”

  1. Abdul Haque

    Playing devil’s advocate – not sure what good would come out if the WB letter was made public. It probably names a few names and points finger towards a few ‘unsubstantiated proofs’. But just for argument’s sake let’s assume that an Abul gets replaced by an Abdul (John Doe) – would the net outcome be any different?

    I hope I am just too cynical.

  2. As

    The 6 percent growth Mr. Kayes from Colorado is speaking about is the fruit of hard work of the private sector which is driving the country forward. However the businessmen have to pay so much into politics that many of them have left business and gone into politics.

    The country loses both ways, we lose efficient entrepreneurs into the political quagmire and we have another group of persons who have both the power and the know how to acquire wealth by means fair and foul.

    • Kayes Ahmed

      Well all growth should be private sector. The government should confine itself to infrastructure, defence, and may police. Any more than that is harmful to an economy. The government’s job is to create an environment where the private sector thrives. So, the growth is coming from the right place. As your private sector’s hard work is profit driven. I get compensated for my work. If I am not going to wok hard then I should not be compensated. It is not charity, it is self interest. So, when you see sustained growth there must be elements of the environment that is working and the credit needs to go where it is due.

  3. Ali

    A well written and informative article.

    In the absence of WB loan if the financial partner is of any other source, then the interest rate must be very high. Eventual cost on the users will go as far as four-fold.

    This arithmetic does not encourage us to look beyond WB. It now has become a political issue, and reading between the lines will be ignored and hurried resulting in another poorly built, costly project.

    However, the wish of all is to see that names are cleared on the false accusations, and so the WB letter be published.

    • Kayes Ahmed

      But are they false accusations? This guy Abul Hosain was picked out by the US Embassy as “less than honest”. The same guy was in charge of Padma negotiations. More fat to chew on. No? The system and the society encourages corruption because of the opacity! Make things transparent and see how the pg fat melt away without the laborious task of chewing on it!

    • Humayun Khan

      I agree, now it seems certain that the economics side of building the bridge will be ignored; it may become more of politics. Ultimately we may end up paying more for the bridge than necessary. Here in UK I have seen several big public-private partnership (PPP) projects (especially for NHS) which later on became a white elephant.

  4. Mohammad Zaman

    I listened to the about 21-minute long BBC interview in youtube. It seems that the interviewer alluded to the fact the PM herself was possibly implicated in the now famous WB letters.

    So, it is imperative that the BD release the letters, at least to lift the shroud of suspicion from the PM’s honesty and credibility.

  5. Orko

    Madame Prime Minister, please release the World Bank letter and let the rumors stop.

  6. Bashar Rashid

    Maybe one can obtain the allegation letter from the Canadian government through the Access to Information Act.

  7. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    We need a boulder from Colorado hit our temple once in a while to wake us up and SEE what the world is doing and what they are talking about us.
    Yes, it is beyond our imagination as to why the now famous WB letter on Padma Bridge is not made public, even after so much pleadings.
    For the benefit of political ends we can go and destroy the fate of the nation!
    Evidence is the LATE resignation of Ex Minister Syed Abul Hossain.
    All people oriented institutions and statutes are made, preserved and honoured by the Govt for people’s interest and for democratic ideals. Then we have a right to know the FACTS. The Supreme Court can also look if the RTI is being ignored and trampled.

  8. Akhtar Hossain

    Mr. Kayes Ahmed:

    You know, I know that Madame PM doesn’t want to open the Pandora’s box.

  9. Mahfooz

    The Wikileak revealed sometime ago that the then US Ambassador felt that Mr Abul Hossain, {or in short, Abul, from FM’s epitaph “Abul is down” fame!} the erstwhile communication minister is ‘less than honest.’ The Japanese Ambassador mentioned the other day that the CPI (Corruption Perception Index) of this country is ‘not recommendable’ [to his government]. In the light of these public utterances from the representatives of the High and Mighty (Allah alone knows what they think and talk of us in private), all the devout and pious yelling and brow beating terming the WB as ‘corrupt’, thus needs to investigated and demanding ‘audit’ of the same [one wonders whom are we demanding these from? Who exactly out of the borders of Bangladesh are listening? Are we demanding justice from the Almighty Himself? One wonders!] will cut little ice with international community, specially since the WB claims to have submitted ‘credible evidence’ of corruption in the Padma Bridge case. The same evidence was good enough for Canadian police to mount an investigation, find hard evidence by executing numerous search warrants that resulted in resignation of the CEO of the offending Company and prosecution of two officials of the company who are on bail presently awaiting trial.

    The GOB claims that laws against corruption are different here than in Canada and elsewhere. The problem is that the donors belong to the ‘elsewhere’ group. What the GOB feel corruption does not really matter. What they feel is of the essence if we wish to borrow money at concessionary rate and terms of payment. If we do not like the terms, we should not bother to ask and make sorry fools of ourselves. That is the bottom line; whether the GOB likes it or not, does not really matter.

    All these will be revealed in money terms if and when Sovereign Bonds will be issued. The poor CPI and bad media coverage in the international press will add at least 2% to the interest rate if we wish to raise money on the international money market. That will be the ‘Price of Corruption’ in short term for all the believers in GOB’s incorruptibility. In the long term, economists have already estimated a hefty 2-3% loss of GDP growth rate for this cancer that is eating at the vitals of this poor nation.
    It is almost certain that the Govt. will NOT make public the WB letters and reports for reasons that will be speculative to hazard by anyone outside the inner precincts of the GOB.

    We shall have to wait for another Wikileak or for some enterprising media man to ‘leak out’ the contents.

    Till then, we the people of Bangladesh are the mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed on horse manure!

  10. Abul Kalam Azad

    Please release the World Bank’s letter in the media so we the people of this country can decide who are telling the truth.

  11. Golam Arshad

    Kayes: You are absolutely right on money! Madam Prime Minister release the letter. To dispel any innuendo and rumor! Nobody could point finger, that the holder of the Highest Office of the land is not being implicated! Have courage and release the Letter!! Let all the Brutus be muzzled and halted in their evil and nefarious design.Do you agree my friend?

  12. Mo

    This is exactly what I want to tell our PM. Let us decide on the matter. Let us see what was in the letter.

    • Kayes Ahmed

      Thank you! It is very affirming to know that you liked it and you expressed it. Thank you.

  13. Jasim Uddin

    Only a person living in Boulder, Colorado would think there has been ‘economic progress and substantial improvement in the economic well-being of the people’ in Bangladesh during the tenure of this inept government.

    • Kayes Ahmed

      Jasim Shahib: I love living in Boulder. Every morning bunch of deer come over to my backyard and get the dogs excited. I love the mountains and the Skiing and the outdoors. But, that does not mean I cannot know the facts. If you go back to WB country report, or The Economist Intelligence Unit report or THE CIA country report you will see that Bangladesh has shown a 6+% growth for the last 7 years. It is also evident to someone like me when I go to Bangladesh from abroad. The changes are visible and tangible. Poverty has been halved since I left Dhaka in 1974. Laughter comes easy for most people. People are not dying on the streets of hunger. I still remember the dead bodies we had to jump over at the SM Hall Gate. People and young kids used to die in droves due to starvation. I do not think you can honestly say that such death happens anymore. Criticize the government but base it on facts and your voice will carry more weight. Got to go do a quick hike in mountains! Bye from paradise, um, Boulder, Colorado.

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