The journey to this prideful moment of witnessing the country's biggest dream project - Padma Multipurpose Bridge – almost nearing its completion, has a tale to tell.
Being the most expensive development project, which is worth an estimated $3.6 billion, it has experienced several obstacles – the biggest one was the financial encumbrance.
In 2007, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the Tk10,162 crore budget for the Padma bridge project. The cost increased to Tk20,507 crore (equivalent to $2.7 billion) by 2011.
Initially, the World Bank was supposed to provide funds of $1.7 billion, and other agencies, ADB and Jica, were to fund $1.17 billion. The rest of the cost were to be funded by the government.
However, the project hit a snag as the World Bank in 2012 cancelled its $1.2 billion credit, saying it had evidence of a corruption conspiracy.
It wrote in the official statement issued on 29 June 2012: "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."
"The World Bank provided evidence from two investigations to the Prime Minister, as well as the finance minister and the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Bangladesh in September 2011 and April 2012. We urged the authorities of Bangladesh to investigate this matter fully and, where justified, prosecute those responsible for corruption. We did so because we hoped the government would give the matter the serious attention it warrants."
"In an effort to go the extra mile, we sent a high-level team to Dhaka to fully explain the bank's position and receive the government's response. The response has been unsatisfactory…in light of the inadequate response by the government of Bangladesh, the World Bank has decided to cancel its $1.2 billion IDA credit in support of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project, effective immediately."
In a fierce response, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina outright rejected the World Bank's allegation of corruption in selection of the consultant for the coveted project. She also reaffirmed her government's position in parliament that action would be taken against those responsible if charges of corruption against them were proved.
On 4 July 2012, the premier said, "I have discussed with the Bangladesh Bank governor, the Economic Relations Division and the finance secretary about funding of the project with our own money."
Mentioning the country's population of 160 million and 8 million expatriates, she expressed her firm belief that the bridge would be built by any means.
On 31 January 2013, the then finance minister AMA Muhith sent two letters to the World Bank president and the heads of ADB, JICA and IDB, co-financiers of the Padma bridge project, after the government decided to withdraw Bangladesh's request for funding the project by the World Bank.
On 4 February 2013, AMA Muhith told the parliament that the government would build the Padma Bridge with domestic funds, keeping the present design intact.
He said, "The project would cost $3.05 billion or Tk24,394 crore and the government would have to arrange the amount within four years."
His plan was to focus first on arranging foreign currency equivalent to $1.8 billion from own resources. Moreover, budgetary allocation made for the bridge was needed to be drastically changed in the next three years.
Work on the main bridge began in November 2014. According to the bridge department, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the construction of the main bridge on 12 December 2015. The first span of the Padma Bridge was installed on 30 September, 2017.
After the declaration, people of all walks of life extended their financial support followed by a large-scale nationalism driven campaign from different sectors of the country. Regardless of the amount, the spirit was lauded.
In January 2016, Sheikh Hasina claimed that the allegation of siphoning off the money through corruption was a result of serious confusion, as a single penny was not disbursed.
She said, "There was tremendous pressure from various quarters. So, we decided to construct the [Padma] bridge with our own resources."
The prime minister thanked the people of the country for their all-out support to the government for constructing the bridge with its own resources.
She said, "The mass support has given us a tremendous strength."
On 21 October 2018, the premier proudly declared that the country was constructing the Padma Bridge with internal resources and that "this single decision has changed Bangladesh's image".
She admitted that it was only possible because the whole country supported her, although her adviser and the finance minister showed strong dissent.
Fast forward to 10 December 2020, the long stretched battle seems to be approaching its cherished dream with the installation of the 41st and last span of the bridge.
Buoyed by steady GDP growth, increasing remittance inflow from Bangladeshi expatriates and the growing apparel sector, the country has made a larger statement which reflects positively on its future.
Kudos to all dreamers. Kudos to Bangladesh.