Bangladesh slams World Bank move to cut bridge funds

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 01, 2012 3:58 AM
Bangladesh slams World Bank move to cut bridge funds

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh's Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith said that a World Bank decision to use corruption allegations to cancel a $1.2-billion credit for a major bridge was "unacceptable" and the country would find other means to complete the project.

The World Bank on Friday cancelled a credit for the 6.2-km (4-mile) bridge over the Padma River, which would have been the country's longest water crossing, with immediate effect, saying it had "credible evidence" of a high-level corruption conspiracy among Bangladeshi officials.

The decision follows an "unsatisfactory" government response to the allegations, the World Bank said, adding the Washington-based lender "cannot, should not, and will not turn a blind eye to evidence of corruption."

Muhith said the World Bank has breached diplomatic protocol.

"Considering the words used and the message expressed in the statement, I have doubts whether the World Bank can issue such a statement to one of its member countries," Muhith said in a statement late on Saturday.

Two former executives from Canadian engineering company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc, which bid to supervise the contractor on the project, appeared in a Toronto court last week accused of bribing officials in Bangladesh.

Canadian authorities launched an investigation last year into alleged corruption in the bridge bidding process after the World Bank brought the issue to their attention.

The bridge is meant to link the country's underdeveloped south with the capital Dhaka and the main port of Chittagong.

Muhith said about 15 billion taka ($183 million) had already been spent and the country may seek funds from Malaysia or China to finish the project.

The Bangladesh chapter of the Berlin-based global corruption watchdog Transparency International called the loan withdrawal decision "embarrassing and disappointing" and asked the bank to review it.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Anis Ahmed and Ed Lane)