The Padma Bridge is a step-up in Bangladesh’s ability to complete a massive, complicated project with its own funds, according to Hasina.
After initially agreeing to co-finance the project, the World Bank cancelled a $1.2 billion loan in June 2012 after raising complaints of corruption over the appointment of consultants for Bangladesh's longest bridge.
That threw the fate of the project into doubt but days later, Hasina announced that the project would be completed with the country's own resources.
In a media briefing on Wednesday ahead of the opening of the bridge, Hasina said: “We’ve salvaged our honour by finishing the construction of the massive structure with courage.”
“The people of our country had a mindset that we can’t do anything without overseas finance.”
“When we decided to go ahead with the project on our own finances after the World Bank pulled out, we were at least able to overcome that [mental barrier], prove that we are a dignified nation and can do it ourselves.”
The government initially tried to win back World Bank’s favour by abiding by its conditions but eventually withdrew the loan request.
With the construction of the 6.15 km bridge complete, Hasina is set to inaugurate it on Jun 25 to connect southwestern Bangladesh to Dhaka.
Hasina had earlier accused former Grameen Bank Managing Director Muhammad Yunus of influencing the World Bank’s decision to cancel the loans.
Asked whether the World Bank had expressed regret over the funding ruckus, she said, “About the World Bank, I’d say [it’s no use blaming outsiders when there’re problems with our own people].
“Who persuaded them to end the deal? It was people from our country and that’s the reality. I don’t need to say anything here. They’ll realise it if they have any remorse. If they don’t, I have nothing to say against anyone.”
Funds from the World Bank as a development partner are not “grants or charitable money” but interest-bearing “loans that we pay back”, Hasina said.
Hasina also highlighted that the World Bank’s money allocated for the Padma Bridge had flowed into other projects in Bangladesh.
“They’ve no right to waste the money sanctioned for Bangladesh. They may have suspended the funds for the bridge, but we were able to retrieve the money and use it for other projects. This can be done. Many of us don’t know that.”
Hasina questioned why the economists and analysts in Bangladesh forget that the World Bank is not a donor. “We don’t receive charitable funds from it. We take loans as its partner and repayments carry an interest rate.”
“It is bound to deliver the money allocated for Bangladesh and can never suspend it. They can’t simply retract the fund after suspending finances for a project.”
“It's true that the interest rate is low. But we do pay them back with interest. Our journalists should remember that. They don’t sympathise with us and neither do we beg for it.”
Hasina also recalled bringing different consultancy meetings of the World Bank to Dhaka after coming to power in 1996.
“We always attended their consultancy meetings,” she said, adding that she had advised the then Finance Minister Shah AMS Kibria to organise consultancy meetings in Dhaka, instead of going to the World Bank for talks.
“Everyone should know this technical matter. There’s no use trying to scare us.”
NO COMPROMISE IN QUALITY
Hasina said the government did not make any compromise on the quality of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge.
The prime minister expressed her gratitude to the people for their unyielding faith and support for the project.
From the very outset, various quarters from within the country, particularly the MD of a “certain bank", had tried to undermine the initiative, Hasina said.
"There were a few people from our country [who sought to undermine the project], especially one person who doesn't have an iota of patriotism. I didn't know they were capable of doing such a thing. I was shocked to see that the post of MD in a bank could be so important."
"Some people wanted to exert their influence but we didn't allow that. They wanted us to authorise an incompetent contractor but we didn't agree."
The World Bank later filed a case against Bangladesh in a Canadian court but failed to prove the allegations of corruption.
"The Canadian court made it clear that the allegations were false and fabricated," said Hasina.
But it was ultimately the courage of the people that enabled the 'dream bridge', which will connect the country's heartland to 21 southwestern districts, to materialise, according to the prime minister.
"The unprecedented support I received from the people gave me courage and strength. The people stood by me. The Padma Bridge stands tall today because of their courage.”