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Minister quits as major project is probed

Graft investigation into aborted bridge scheme prompts IT chief to resign

  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • July 24, 2012
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Information and Communications Technology Minister Syed Abul Hossain submitted his resignation amid corruption allegations over the building of the Padma Bridge, according to local media reports.

“A probe into graft allegations by the World Bank on the Padma Bridge project is underway. For the sake of neutrality of the investigations I’ve decided not to stay in office,” Hossain said in a televised phone-in interview with ATN Bangla.

Yeafes Osman, state minister for science and technology, has been named acting head of the ICT, according to a report by The Daily Star.

No official announcement of the resignation has been made.

“We will brief the media on the issue in time. Please be patient,” Abul Kalam Azad, press secretary for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, told ucanews.com.

Last week Hossain published an open letter in several national daily newspapers indicating that he was prepared to step down for the sake of the investigation but denied any involvement in corruption and said an investigation would prove his innocence.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s acting secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul Islam, said the resignation substantiated allegations of wrongdoing.

“The resignation of Abul Hossain proves that corruption existed in the Padma Bridge project and that he has [previously] been protected by government higher-ups.”

The US$3 billion bridge project, which would span 6.15 kilometers and cross the Padma river, the local name for the Ganges, was the centerpiece of election pledges by the ruling Awami League when it came to power in 2009.

Once completed, it would provide direct road and rail links between Dhaka and the country’s impoverished southwest region with a population of 30 million.

The bridge was also expected to boost the country’s economy by contributing to GDP growth of 1.2 percent annually.

However, the project stalled after allegations in September by the World Bank, which had pledged $1.2 billion in funding, of “high-level corruption” by Bangladeshi officials overseeing the project.

State-run Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has so far been unable to substantiate the allegations.

But upon referral by the WB, Canadian police arrested officials from SNC Lavalin, a Montreal-based construction company on suspicion of bribing Bangladeshi officials to secure the contract, and an official investigation is under way.

After the government rejected conditions imposed by the WB to proceed with the project, the WB cancelled its funding and accused officials of an “inadequate response to credible evidence of corruption.”

Additional funding from co-financers the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Asian Development Bank remain pending.

The government has said it will press on with the project by seeking additional funding but still hopes to reach a compromise with the WB.

“We had some difficulties regarding [one of the] conditions of the WB and we are trying to accept it. If we can make it, we hope the WB will review its decision on the loan and we can start [building] the bridge soon,” said Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith on Sunday.

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