Thousands of Bangladeshi motorists queued to make their first trip across the newly-opened Padma Bridge yesterday near Dhaka, with the government of the country declaring it a “symbol of the nation’s glory” and vindication of a corruption case dismissed in Canada.
Costing around $3.6bn, the 6.15km-long, double-decked bridge, carrying a highway on the top deck and a railway on the lower, crosses the fast-flowing Padma River, creating an important transport link between Dhaka and poor regions to the southwest where some 30 million people live.
Before it won the contract, the long-planned scheme became mired in controversy in 2012 when the World Bank withdrew its $1.2bn in funding, claiming to have evidence of a “high-level corruption conspiracy” among Bangladeshi government officials, executives of Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and others in connection with the scheme. In 2013, the bank debarred SNC-Lavalin for 10 years for what the bank called its “misconduct” in relation to the project.
That year Canadian police launched a corruption case in connection with the project against former SNC-Lavalin executives, but it was dismissed by a Canadian court in 2017 on the grounds that wiretap evidence initially offered was inadmissible.
Last year the World Bank released SNC-Lavalin from its sanctions two years early after deciding the company had met all corporate integrity conditions.
Referencing the failed case in remarks preceding the bridge’s opening, Bangladeshi President M Abdul Hamid said: “Today, the Padma Bridge stands as a symbol of the nation’s glory in the heart of the turbulent Padma.”
He added: “The implementation of this bridge has given us the courage to stand high with confidence across the globe as a symbol of wealth management, transparency, accountability and efficiency.”
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the bridge would increase the country’s GDP by 1.23% and would alleviate poverty by 0.84% a year.
It said steel piles 3m in diameter were driven to depths of up to 130m.