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Fault In Our Stars?

February 16, 2017

Recent court ruling over SNC Lavalin corruption allegations put the ruling party of Bangladesh in jubilant mood. The court cleared SNC Lavalin of any wrongdoings and  trashed the evidences against it. Ruling party stalwarts flaunt the verdict as a certification that AL govt is an honest govt and did not indulge in corruption in Padma Bridge project.

Some went further to demand that World Bank apologize to AL govt. Radicals among the party spared no time to take Prof Yunus, Bangladesh’s sole Nobel peace prize  winner, to task as they believe it was him who had pulled the strings in this whole l’Affaire Padma bridge.

Earlier Prof Yunus had also been singled out for the postponement of GSP facilities of RMG items in US market.

Before drawing any definitive conclusion on who is culprit and who is clean, let’s have a look on whole l’Affaire Padma bridge in brief.

SNC Lavalin was one of the companies short listed for the supervision of construction of Padma bridge. WB in a public statement claimed that its Integrity Unit had detected “possible corruption” in Padma Bridge project  and accused SNC Lavalin executives,  some govt officials and some private individuals of underhand tactics.
WB passed wiretap evidences to Royal Canadian Mountain Police and asked to take action against Lavalin.

Bangladesh also complied WB request. Anti Corruption Commission opened an investigation against accused officials. Govt discharged the accused ministers of duties and reshuffled the cabinet. In its investigation, however, ACC found nothing and  accused got off scot-free.

Canadian Superior Court, too, found the wiretap evidences “nothing more than speculation, gossip and rumour.”
WB, however, banned SNC Lavalin for 10 years from taking part in bidding process of any of its financed project.

We are missing a point here: lack of evidence. The court did not find the evidences substantial enough to call  SNC Lavalin corrupt.

Interpreting the court ruling differently was deliberately done to wield the verdict as a political triumph. At the same time, the verdict is used to teach a lesson to all its political opponents.
Govt is reluctant to accept the fact that it has a huge trust deficit among development partners.

Take for instance, Chinese silence over Padma Bridge rail link project. Chinese decision to halt finance the Padma rail bridge shocked the govt.
Development projects finalized by Chinese govt for 2017 did not include it. Economic Relations Department of govt sent letter to Chinese embassy urging to speed up the credit delivery. Chinese government  remained silent over the issue.

Another financier of Padma bridge project Islamic Development Bank that also pulled itself out of Padma bridge project recently cancelled $80 million credit for ” Sylhet Power Efficiency Improvement” project calling into question the transparency in technical evaluation process.

Korea Exim Bank stalled the technical evaluation of an internet connectivity project of BTCL. Like the WB , Korea Exim Bank detected dishonest means among the bidders to win the contract. Just like the Padma Bridge debacle, in this case too a potential bidder and a project consultant exchanged messages and talked over phone in the throes of technical evaluation. The conduct was deemed as a mean to influence the bidding process.

In 2015, BTCL lost another $75 million Japanese soft loan. It had failed to comply JICA rules which laid down that lowest bidder get the contract.

Last year,Dutch govt called off assistance of Tk1.4 billion in water management project . Govt decision to divert the money to Sirajganj Protection Embankment project, which was not the target project, had irked the Dutch govt so much that it wound up the assistance.

UN Green Climate Fund (GCF) recently did not approve $67 million of climate adaptation fund as the project proposal submitted before it reeked of “possible corruption”. The project in question aimed to install water tanks to conserve rain water all across the coastal districts.    The proposal was prepared by UNDP and govt officials in such a way so that one individual could get the contract. GCF even relayed its concerns to  concerned authority at the preliminary stage. But the good piece of advice fell into deaf years.

Leave aside the development partners. Domestic investors have no confidence in this govt. Look at the sluggish picture of domestic investment. Govt literally subdued all its opponents. No opposition can  obstruct any of its initiatives in future. Yet investors are less enthusiastic to invest.

SAMSUNG, South Korean telecom giant, backed out of its investment of $1.2 billion to set up a mobile phone factory in KEPZ. Because govt had failed to resolve red-tape issues concerning land ownership.

Professional bodies are also losing confidence in this govt. Butchers went on strike since they could not take it anymore to pay the exorbitant rate of extortion.

All these incidents do not make an assay of an honest govt. Govt wards off these controversies by inventing some bête noires among the civil society, which is in disarray since 2009 General Election. What else could it do? It takes a lot of courage to admit a fault. Especially in a society where such admission is seen as a sign of weakness. So, witch-hunting is the solution!

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