World Bank moved away from Padma Bridge project owing to external pressure: HPM Sheikh Hasina


Published on May 2, 2023
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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday blamed the external pressure for the cancellation of $1.2 billion credit the World Bank had committed to financing the iconic Padma Bridge that Bangladesh finally constructed with its own money.

"I regret that the World Bank moved away from financing this most important project (Padma Multi-purpose Bridge) owing to external pressure," she said.

The premier said this while addressing an informal interaction with the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank at the Shihata Conference room of its headquarters here.

Hasina, however, wished to look into the future of the partnership between Bangladesh and the World Bank.

"We now wish to look into the future of our partnership," she said.

The PM is now in Washington DC on a week-long official visit to the US mainly to take part in the celebration of the 50 years of partnership between Bangladesh and the World Bank.

Though the bank's promised loan was scrapped in 2012, Bangladesh, under the strong leadership of Hasina, went ahead with self-financing the bridge and inaugurated it on June 25 last year.

The PM asked the World Bank to must remain focused on its core purpose of poverty alleviation and development financing.

She mentioned that the World Bank is now committed to 53 different projects in Bangladesh, involving USD 15 billion. This is part of the grants and loans of USD 39 billion so far offered by the Washington-based multilateral lender.

The prime minister said that the present situation gives an indication of Bangladesh economy's growth opportunities and absorptive capacity.

"Bangladesh has never defaulted on its debt repayment, or fallen into a so-called 'debt trap'," she stated.

In this regard, she said that the strong performance of Bangladesh in human capital formation is matched by "our investment in infrastructure mega-projects."

"The construction of the 6.1 km Padma Multi-purpose Bridge with our own financial and technical resources is a sign of our economic maturity," she proudly said.

Hasina said that the World Bank is actively engaged in digital transformation of Bangladesh as the government has kept its words to the people by building together a 'Digital Bangladesh' by 2021.

She mentioned that the government has set its next target to become a knowledge-based 'Smart Bangladesh' by 2041.

"I call upon our development partners like the World Bank to continue investing in our digital and physical infrastructure. We also seek international support for trade diversification, investment promotion and domestic resource generation," she said.

She mentioned that the World Bank has extended grant support for the 1.2 million forcibly displaced Rohingya from Myanmar in Bangladesh while their prolonged presence is becoming a huge challenge for the country.

"We have created excellent facilities for one hundred thousand of them in the Bhashan Char island. Pending their return to Myanmar, we hope the World Bank will continue to support their humanitarian needs," she said.

The world must not forget these hapless people yet again, she reiterated.

PM Hasina said that Bangladesh has shown that it can deliver on its commitments.

"I am confident that our young people will take our nation forward in the right political environment. We wish to further expand our role as a responsible and contributing member of the comity of nations."

She said that Bangladesh shall continue to pursue its economic diplomacy based on its foreign policy principle of "Friendship to All, Malice towards None".

"I hope that our international partners will stay focused on the positive aspects of our march forward and join us in a promising development journey ahead," she said

Hasina asked the World Bank to make itself ready for the future as the world is witnessing some major shifts in geo-economics this year which have implications for Bangladesh as an economy in transition.

She said that Bangladesh is the world's largest active delta situated on the world's largest Bay – the Bay of Bengal. This is a location at the heart of what is termed as Indo-Pacific.

"We are now the world's 35th largest economy with a GDP of USD 460 billion. In South Asia, we are the second biggest economy and an emerging growth engine. We are graduating from the UN Least Developed Country (LDC) status, having qualified in all three criteria."

She mentioned that in 2022, the headcount poverty came down to 18.7 percent, with a sharp decline in extreme poverty to 5.6 percent.

"All this has happened despite the multi-dimensional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Europe, and the deepening climate crisis."

She mentioned that the biggest asset of Bangladesh is its resilience. In 1971, it achieved the independence following a genocide, and with an economy in ruins.

"Our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called upon the international community to stand by our people. The World Bank also responded and thus started our partnership," she noted.

She recalled that the development journey has been far from smooth. Bangladesh experienced repeated military takeovers, extremist threats, and deadly natural disasters. In the last one and a half decade, the nation finally started turning around by tackling these challenges, and ensuring political and economic stability.

"During this time, we remained true to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's call for people's emancipation. Our state policy embraces democracy, human rights and nationalism as a basis of unity, and envisions a just society defined by socialism and secularism."

These ensure equal treatment without discrimination based on religion, race or gender. The people's representatives responsible for governance are subject to different layers of accountability, she added.

In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina said that it has made impressive gains in food security, free and affordable housing, community healthcare, compulsory primary education, women's empowerment, financial inclusion, access to electricity, and disaster preparedness.

"We wish to achieve our targets on universal health coverage, quality education, child welfare, skills promotion, urban development, sustainable industrialization, environmental protection and effective institution building."

She put emphasis on the need for the World Bank to scale up its concessional financing for developing countries to allow us to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

"I look forward to the World Bank sharing its concrete ideas on this at the UN SDG Summit in New York in September. The World Bank must invest further in building state capabilities and knowledge for sustainable development."

She also said that It is encouraging that the World Bank is giving added emphasis on climate financing. For a climate vulnerable country like Bangladesh, it needs adequate financing for both mitigation and adaptation.

In this regard she said that Since 2009, Bangladesh has financed 800 projects from its own Trust Fund.

"We are launching a Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan to fast-forward our green transition in key sectors. We shall need USD 230 billion by 2050 only for adaptation. The Climate Financing Summit in Paris in June will be an opportunity for the World Bank to give us some meaningful assurance on these."

HPM addressed the informal interaction with board of executive directors at the World Bank. World Bank Executive Director Paramesewaran War, Anna Bjerde of World Bank's Managing Director and Alternate Executive Director Dr Ahmad Kaikaus also spoke at the function.