Over the past 13 years Bangladesh, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has written many stories of success. The recent one has been the electrification of entire Bangladesh reaching the all-important electricity to every house. Sheikh Hasina’s government has also presided over the country’s graduation to developing economy or middle-income group of countries of the world. Bangladesh economy, despite many odds – the latest being the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing Ukrain-Russia war – has been making steady progress. In keeping the momentum Bangladesh is on the threshold of making another milestone achievement: the opening of Padma Bridge on June 25. Fireworks will be lit as the proud nation of 170 million people anticipate the historic moment when the prime minister will be the first person to pay the toll to cross the 6.15 km-bridge, the country’ s largest infrastructure. It’s a huge dream coming true.
Though the fulfilment of the long-cherished dream now tastes sweet, the story of its journey has not been as smooth as it may appear today. There had been devils who tried their best to see that Bangladesh is never able to build the bridge. The first blow came from the World Bank, the multi-lateral lending agency that in 2012 abruptly withdrew its pledged $1.2 billion soft loan for the project, prompting other supporting agencies like the Asian Development Bank, JICA and Islamic Development Bank to follow the suit. But for the grit and guts demonstrated by Sheikh Hasina the project would have witnessed a death before its take-off. Taking the nation with her she firmly declared that Bangladesh will go ahead with the construction of the bridge will its own funds come what may. The bridge that spans over the mighty and treacherous Padma River is the outcome of courage and determination of the daughter of Bangabandhu making the entire nation proud.
Today’s leadership of the World Bank should be ruing its decision made a decade ago in betrayal of a nation for no fault of its own. What did the bank say in support of its decision to unilaterally cancel the loan agreement. On June 29 in 2012 the bank sent a letter to Bangladesh which read: "The World Bank has credible evidence corroborated by a variety of sources which points to a high-level corruption conspiracy among Bangladeshi government officials, SNC Lavalin executives, and private individuals in connection with the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project."
Sharp came the response from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who rejected the World Bank's allegation of corruption in selection of the consultant for the dream project. She then vowed in Parliament that her government would go ahead with the project. She said that Bangladesh will build the bridge with its own money. Following her declaration the then-Finance Minister AMA Muhith told the Parliament that the government will self-finance the project keeping its design intact. At the opening ceremony Muhith, who died recently, will be sorely missed.
Whenever the prime minister speaks about the Padma Bridge she lauds the courage of the Bangladeshis. She says that she has drawn the inspiration firstly from her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the architect of independent Bangladesh, and above all the people. At the same time she keeps reminding the people about the World Bank and its mischief in regard to the project in collusion with the then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton who reportedly influenced the then World Bank president to cancel the loan. Many would, however, argue that since the bridge has been done what’s the point in opening the wounds. Better forget and move forward. The World Bank and its efforts to tarnish the government of Hasina and with it the image of Bangladesh has to be repeated time and again for exposing its double game and unacceptable attitude towards countries like Bangladesh. It’s a lesson well learnt by Bangladesh. The World Bank should also learn its own lesson.