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Malaysia ready to finance $3bn bridge

Project would improve lives of 30 million poor, says World Bank reporter, Dhaka

June 29, 2012

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Malaysia yesterday issued a formal proposal to Bangladesh saying it was ready to finance and build a US$3 billion bridge over the Padma River that is considered critical to improving the livelihoods of millions of people in the impoverished south of the country. S Samy Vellu, a special envoy to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, submitted the proposal for the 6.15-kilometer bridge to Bangladesh’s Communications Minister Obaidul Kader. “We need to assess the proposals thoroughly before we come to any decision. National, economic and public interests will get priority in our discussions,” Kader told reporters after the meeting. Contractors for the project have not yet been finalized although a consortium of Malaysian companies has reportedly been put together. According to the draft proposal, Malaysia would operate the bridge for 37 years before handing it over to Bangladesh. The World Bank has said the bridge would transform the lives of about 30 million Bangladeshis, reducing the travel distance to the capital Dhaka by nearly 100 kilometers while raising the country’s gross domestic product by a projected 1.2 percent. The project has been mired in allegations of corruption after the World Bank suspended a $1.2 billion loan, its biggest ever commitment to Bangladesh, over allegations of graft in the pre-bidding process. The Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency responded by also withdrawing loans, which has put the project in jeopardy. Talks this week between the government and the World Bank reportedly failed to end concerns over corruption. The Economic Relations Division said on Wednesday it would not remove officials working on the project from their positions as no one had been found guilty of graft. The government has dismissed previous communications minister Abul Hossain who owns a firm that was allegedly involved in taking bribes. Hossain has repeatedly rejected corruption allegations and the state-run Anti-Corruption Commission has not found him guilty. Meanwhile, Canadian police this week arrested two representatives of SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based engineering company accused of bribing Bangladeshi officials during the bidding process to recruit contractors. The company’s Bangladesh unit has been temporarily barred from making new bids.
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