Expert panel members refute Hasina WB ‘pressure’ claimsDavid Bergman
Two of the country’s leading engineers, who were members of the international panel of experts set up to advise the government on the construction of the Padma Bridge, dispute the prime minister’s allegation that the World Bank ‘pressured’ the government to appoint particular companies.
The experts, both of whom are also vice-chancellors of major Bangladeshi universities, say that the questions asked by the World Bank concerning whether the three Chinese companies should be left out of the procurement short-lists were reasonable, considering that they were big and experienced companies.
‘No pressure was exerted on the evaluation committees,’ said Ainun Nishat, vice-chancellor of BRAC University, who was also a member of the evaluation committee that corresponded with the World Bank in connection with one of the companies in question.
‘The queries raised by the World Bank were reasonable,’ said AMM Shafiullah, now vice-chancellor of Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, who was involved in dealing directly with the queries of the two other companies.
Their views are supported by a senior official within the Bangladesh Bridge Authority with detailed knowledge of the World Bank correspondence. ‘There was no pressure,’ he said.
At a meeting in London, the prime minister has been reported as saying, ‘The World Bank has withdrawn its loan on a false allegation. Nonetheless, they are also accused of the same allegation. They put constant pressure to get work for a company. What was the percentage of bribe they have taken to get it done?’
This follows on from a comment made the previous week in Dhaka where she told the Awami League central working committee, ‘Why did they [the World Bank] put pressure? What are the World Bank’s relations with the fake company? Whether there was any deal or corruption involved is the big question now.’
The company that Hasina appears to be referring to as ‘fake’ is the China Railway Construction Company.
The company had applied to be shortlisted in the tender relating to the selection of a contractor to build the Padma bridge. The evaluation committee, however, did not select the company as it had no experience in ‘raked piling.’
‘It was done very softly. Here was a very large company and the World Bank was surprised to see it omitted and wanted to find out why it had not been selected as pre-qualified,’ said Ainun Nishat.
‘The World Bank therefore asked us to check to make sure that it really did not have this experience,’ he said. ‘I do not think this was an unreasonable thing for the World Bank to ask in the circumstances.’
‘The committee was content to check this out and did not feel under pressure as a result of the request,’ he said. ‘We informed the World Bank about the results of our inquiries and that was the end of the matter.’
The World Bank also sought further clarification about two other companies which had applied for a contract relating to river-training and the prime minister may have been referring to one of these two companies in her comments.
The China Communications Construction Company and the China Gezhouba Group Corporation are two other very large Chinese government companies with extensive experience in construction and river training work.
‘Technically, they are very big with lots of associated companies,’ said Shafiullah, who was at that time was vice-chancellor of BUET. ‘They applied for the tender involving river training works but one of the conditions for short-listing is that they must have experience of over 20m excavation in alluvial soil on a flat slope.’
‘Although both companies had experience of 20m excavation, the evaluation committee was of the opinion that that they did not have experience in accurate soil excavation in alluvial soil.’
‘When the two companies were left out of the bid, the World Bank queried why we had left out two very big companies with a lot of experience in working offshore,’ he said.
As a result, Shafiullah led a team to China to look at these two companies and their experience.
‘What we found was that they are capable companies but had no experience in dealing with the requirements of the Padma bridge river training works.’
‘It was, however, reasonable for the World Bank to clarify this issue,’ Shafiullah said. ‘There was no undue pressure. The World Bank just wanted to know in detail about these two companies.’
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