How many years does it take to construct a building of 2,500 square metres? Usually, it takes three years. In case of bureaucratic complexities and scarcity of land, it may take up to five years.
However, the construction of Bangladesh's chancery building in Australia has not started even after 36 years of the land allotment.
After the land was received in 1985, the construction of the building was inaugurated in 1999. However, the Australian government cancelled the allocation as work on it did not start.
Although the land was bought again in 2011 at a cost of more than Tk10 crore, the construction of the building is still confined to paper. If work does not begin within the next year, there is a risk of the land being lost again.
Faced with this reality, at the beginning of this year the Foreign Ministry sent a proposal to the Planning Commission regarding a project entitled "Construction of Bangladesh Chancery Building in Canberra, Australia" at a cost of Tk146.87 crore.
The commission's Physical Infrastructure Division held Project Evaluation Committee (PEC) meetings on the proposal in two phases.
According to the minutes of the PEC meetings, Australia was the fourth country to recognise independent Bangladesh after liberation in 1971. Bilateral trade with the country has multiplied over the past decade.
By this time, the number of Bangladeshis in Australia has more than doubled. Australia is now an ideal destination for higher education for Bangladeshi students. Considering all this, the amount of trade with the country will double in the next four years.
It further said that the Bangladesh High Commission was currently working in a 1,590 square metre rented house in Canberra. The size of this flat is much less than required. Apart from that, the area of work of the High Commission has increased in recent times.
It added that two of the eight diplomats did not have separate rooms, so they have to work with other staff. Besides, a huge amount of money has to be spent on office rent as well as venue rent on various national days.
Foreign Ministry officials say bilateral relations with Australia are expected to emerge free of the cycle of aid and trade in the future and transform Dhaka into a reliable partner of Canberra. In view of this, it is necessary to keep space for at least 10 diplomats, 12 administrative officers and five drivers, keeping in view the demands of the next four decades. The project proposal has been sent in order to meet these requirements.
Initiative started 36 years ago
In 1985, the Australian government allocated 110 kathas of land in response to a request from the government to construct Bangladesh's chancery building. In 1999, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her first term in office, officially announced the construction of the building. However, the Australian government cancelled the allotment of land as until 2004 the work had not begun.
In 2011, the government once again asked Australia for land to build the chancery building. Following the application, the Australian government allotted 73 kathas of land subject to payment of more than Tk10 crore. With the allocation of 37 kathas of land to India from the previous land, the size of Bangladesh's plot has come down to two-thirds.
Chancery building will be on a smaller scale
After losing 37 kathas from the primarily allocated land owing to the delay in undertaking construction work, the size of land allotted for Bangladesh anew has come down to 4,965 square metres. Pakistan's High Commission has been set up in the same area on 12,221 square metres of land. Apart from that, the size of land allotted for Bangladesh is less than that of the chancery buildings of many countries, such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In view of this fact, it has been decided to construct only the chancery building on the allotted land. Accommodation for other diplomats, including the Bangladesh High Commissioner, will be arranged elsewhere. The project document states that the representatives of various ministries have decided to visit Australia in two phases.
Delay in construction risks losing land allotment again
Foreign Ministry officials have said that if construction does not start by August next year, the allocation of land will be cancelled again, this time to protect a rare species of butterflies.
They said after receiving land allocation for the second time, the Bangladesh High Commission in Australia conducted an Environmental Assessment Survey that was mandatory to begin the construction of the building. In the survey, the area was identified as breeding space for a rare species of butterflies, known as Golden Sun Moth.
In August 2017, after a prolonged review, the Australian environmental court allowed construction on condition that work was undertaken within the next five years. As such, work on the chancery building must start by August next year.
Trade with Australia to grow
The government expects Bangladesh's bilateral trade with Australia, especially its export earnings, to grow exponentially in the next few years.
According to the Foreign Ministry, bilateral trade between the two countries has increased from $1 billion in 2010 to $2.7 billion at present. In 2030, the amount will stand at $7 billion. As a result, bilateral trade will increase 2.59 times in 10 years.
At the same time, Australia's export earnings will triple to $3.5 billion. The number of students from Bangladesh will increase from 6,000 to 15,000 a year. And the Bangladeshi diaspora will register an increase by seven times from 28,000 to 200,000. ***