Bangladesh is set to witness a historic moment on Saturday with the inauguration of Padma Bridge demonstrating to the world what this country can do on its own, proving the skeptics wrong amid the World Bank's scrapping of committed loans.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who took up the challenge to go ahead with self-financing the bridge of national pride, will formally open the road-and-rail bridge, a milestone on the connectivity front, nationally and regionally.
Since the start on December 12, 2015 the work on building the country's longest bridge at 6.15 kilometres did not stop even for a single day despite the Covid-19 pandemic situation and Holey Artisan tragedy.
Praises keep pouring in acknowledging the prime minister's courage, determination and political leadership amid enormous difficulties to make the bridge into a reality.
Even diplomats stationed in Dhaka spoke highly about her decision and the economic impact of the mega project.
India attributed the achievement to PM Hasina's "continuous and consistently courageous decision" while China sees the bridge as a symbol of "courage, determination and prosperity" and lauded her political courage and responsibility.
The Embassy of Russia, envoys from Japan, Australia, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and Italy also highly commended Bangladesh's efforts to build the bridge on its own but the envoys from the United States and the United Kingdom are likely to share messages ahead of the inauguration.
On June 29, 2012, the World Bank posted a long statement on its website mentioning that it decided to cancel its $1.2 billion IDA credit in support of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project, effective immediately.
The global lender claimed that it had "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 information from two investigations to the PM Hasina, as well as the finance minister and the chairman of the Anti -Corruption Commission of Bangladesh (ACC) in September 2011 and April 2012.
On December 17 of the year, ACC filed a graft conspiracy case with Banani Police Station in Dhaka against Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, the then Bridges Division secretary; Kazi Mohammad Ferdous, the then superintendent engineer of Bangladesh Bridge Authority, and Reaz Ahmed Zaber, the then executive engineer of the Roads and Highways Department.
The accused also included former local agent of SNC-Lavalin Mohammad Mostofa and its ex-officials Mohammad Ismail, Ramesh Shah and Kevin Wales.
The graft watchdog body in its probe report submitted to the court in September 2014 cleared all the accused in the case of the conspiracy charges, saying none had been found guilty. The ACC did not find any proof that connects former Communication Minister Syed Abul Hossain.
Mosharraf Bhuiyan, now Bangladesh ambassador to Germany, spent over 40 days in jail but he later was found innocent.
Five senior engineers involved in the much talked-about Padma Bridge categorically said that the cost of its construction has been the lowest in the world in the context of the challenging realities.
A delegation led by Project Manager and Supervision Consultant of the Padma Bridge Robert John Aves apprised the prime minister of the technical issues of the project and said the bridge will last more than 100 years.
The government expects that Padma Bridge's construction cost will be recovered in the next 35 years, according to the Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA).
The finance ministry provided BBA an amount of Tk 30,000 crore as credit, which will be repaid with one per cent interest rate in 35 years.
Connector of people, emotions and culture of Bengal
Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Kumar Doraiswami has said the much-cherished Padma Bridge will help contribute to greater connectivity between the two countries and in the sub-region supporting the BBIN initiative.
"From that perspective, as a country that has long valued the opportunity to increase connectivity across the sub-region, we in India will be delighted," he said.
He attributed the achievement to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's "continuous and consistently courageous decision."
The high commissioner said she (PM Hasina) was proven correct in her decision to go ahead with this project and they look forward to the blessings of "connectivity, economic progress and easier travel" that will come as a result of this major breakthrough.
"It is a major infrastructural project not just in terms of brick and steel," Doraiswami said, adding that it is a symbolic connection between the two parts of Bangladesh.
He said the bridge is the connector of more than just business - connector of people, emotions and connector of culture of Bengal.
"So, it's a great moment for all Bengalis, not just the Bangladeshi people but even Bengalis in India who will join their brothers and sisters in Bangladesh in celebrating this huge achievement of the government and people of Bangladesh," said the high commissioner.
He said not just Bangladesh and India, Nepal in particular will also have faster access to Bangladesh.
Doraiswami said they were the first country to actually say that they will support this decision including through financial support when the government of Bangladesh decided to go for the mega project alone.
Responding to a question, he said this was a difficult decision that Bangladesh took but it was a "courageous" one and history has proven that the prime minister was correct.
The Indian envoy said the principal purpose of the bridge is to facilitate the easier movement of people as well as goods and service. "I think it will have an important benefit on poverty alleviation programs, on economic activity."
Responding to a question on BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal), he said logically the moment they can finalize the two protocols on movement of cargo vehicles and passenger vehicles, the bridge will naturally lend itself to faster movement of goods.
He said Indian companies are already attracted to invest in Bangladesh and obviously if logistics become easier and cheaper then immediately it makes more sense to be able to do more business in Bangladesh.
Symbol of courage amid enormous difficulties
Terming the Padma Multipurpose Bridge a symbol of courage, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming has credited Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's wise leadership and determination in building the "dream bridge" despite enormous difficulties.
"It's an outstanding achievement. This is going to be a big day (June 25) for Bangladesh, Today, nobody will ever doubt that Bangladesh can do it," he said, adding that PM Hasina is a "true representative" of the people who share the glory of building the bridge.
Ambassador Li said the prime minister made a particular contribution to make that decision because it requires "extreme political courage and political responsibility" to take such a tough decision (to build the bridge with its own resources).
"I doubt any average leader of any country can make such a tough decision as she did, I doubt. I really doubt," he said while sharing his thoughts with the media on the mega project.
As the formal inauguration of the bridge by the premier draws closer, ambassador Li extended his and his country's warmest congratulations to the people and government of Bangladesh for this achievement.
Highlighting the vision of PM Hasina and a solid reality with the physical existence of the bridge, the Chinese envoy said he feels particularly proud of and connected to the bridge, not only because it is built by a Chinese company but also because they see it is a "milestone" of Bangladesh-China cooperation.
He believes that after the bridge is open to traffic, it will benefit the people of Bangladesh, contribute to the connectivity of South Asia and it will serve as an everlasting bond of brotherhood between China and Bangladesh.
"Whenever I think of the bridge, three words come to my mind: courage, determination and prosperity," he added.
The Padma Bridge is so far the longest bridge Chinese companies have ever built outside China. "So I think accepting the challenge was also a courageous step taken by the Chinese side," said the envoy.
The ambassador recalled the days when the government of Bangladesh was conceiving the idea of the bridge and there were some complications regarding finance, technical viability and legitimacy of the plan.
"Some partners from abroad didn't believe such a plan could ever materialize. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Sheikh steeled herself for all the doubts, pressures and allegations, and decided to build the bridge with Bangladesh's own finances, which required tremendous courage and a strong sense of political responsibility," he said, mentioning that China had full confidence in the people and the government of Bangladesh. "And we are correct."
The ambassador justified Hasina's call to remain vigilant ahead of the grand opening. He said the PM asked the government entities to be cautious because "somebody might not like to see the success and historic achievement made" by the people of Bangladesh under her leadership.
Responding to a question on China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its link with the bridge, he said the BRI is a very broad vision and it is not something narrow. "It's bigger than many people imagine."
He said the Padma Bridge is a symbol of determination and it took almost eight years to build the bridge. "So the story of the Padma Bridge is also a story of perseverance and determination."
Ambassador Li said the unique hydrographic features of the Padma River have posed the most daunting challenge.
The sand and soft clay under the river couldn't provide enough support to the pillars, so the steel piles had to be driven 120 meters deep into the river bed.
On average, it required 20 to 30 thousand blows to drive one pile into position. Five state-of-the-art hydraulic pile hammers, including the largest one in the world, were deployed.
The ambassador said the COVID-19 pandemic put everything on pause, yet the project managed to secure the line of logistics, provide close-loop accommodation to around 3000 engineers and workers, registered zero infection, and keep the construction work as less interrupted as possible.
He said the Padma Bridge is a symbol of prosperity and statistics show that the bridge, once open to traffic, can push the GDP growth rate of Bangladesh up to 1.5%.
It is estimated that more than 80 million people, who account for half of Bangladesh's population, will benefit from the bridge, said the envoy.
Moreover, he said, it serves as the missing link of the Trans Asian Railway and Asian Highway network. With the bridge in use, a more integrated Bangladesh will surely contribute to a more integrated and prosperous South Asia and beyond.
Since the beginning of the project, more than 50 thousand new jobs have been created. Through the project, a huge amount of local workers have become skilled laborers.
Many of them brought their whole families to the project site, making contributions in one way or another. The nearby towns have become more prosperous ones thanks to the bridge construction.
"In fact, a bridge like that won't merely connect two pieces of land; it will also connect our two peoples by heart, leading the way to common prosperity and shared future," said the ambassador.
A true game changer
The Russian Embassy in Dhaka has said Padma Bridge is a "true game changer" as it offers multiple opportunities in terms of regional trade, investments, connectivity, employment, tourism, and many other fields.
The Russian Federation thinks the construction of Padma Bridge is a "landmark achievement" made possible by the far-sighted vision of the Bangladesh government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina."
Without doubt, the Russian embassy said, it will largely contribute to the national GDP growth and benefit the comprehensive development of the southwestern parts of Bangladesh.
"The dream of Sonar Bangla cherished by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is coming true right before our eyes," said the embassy in a media release as Bangladesh is set to see formal inauguration of the dream project.
Undoubtedly, the Russian embassy said, the implementation of other mega projects including the construction of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant with the assistance of the Russian company Rosatom will further contribute to the successful development story of Bangladesh, to prosperity and well-being of its people.
The embassy of the Russian Federation congratulated the government and the people of Bangladesh on the upcoming inauguration of the multipurpose Padma Bridge.
"It is commendable that this ambitious mega-project has been completely funded by Dhaka's own resources," said the embassy.
An eye opener to foreign investors
The Padma Bridge will help open up the eyes of international investors including the Saudi companies to give a serious look at Bangladesh as an investment destination, the Saudi envoy in Dhaka.
"I admire Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for taking the revolutionary step of self-financing to build the Padma Bridge," saif Saudi ambassador to Bangladesh Essa Yousef Essa Al Duhailan at the embassy.
He said Padma Bridge is one of Bangladesh's most significant achievements that helped accomplish the people's dream.
On behalf of the custodians of the two holy mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the ambassador congratulated President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government as well as the people of Bangladesh ahead of the historic day of the formal inauguration of the mega project.
Responding to a question, ambassador Duhailan said the Saudi companies are increasingly looking at Bangladesh as an investment destination and hoped to see some visible steps soon to that end.
He said the Padma Bridge is a unique project nationally and internationally and it will help Bangladesh think beyond and build more infrastructures in the future. "It'll put Bangladesh in a higher position."
The ambassador appreciated Bangladesh's political stability and overall security environment which he thinks very favorable to foreign investors.
The Saudi envoy said PM Hasina has proven repeatedly that she is the daughter of Bangabandhu whose visionary idea had boosted the country's economy to new heights.
"Her capacity to make swift decisions in keeping the country's economy on track is marvelous despite the fact that many big nations have struggled under similar circumstances," said ambassador Duhailan.
He extended good wishes to the people of Bangladesh whose joint efforts are helping establish a stronger and progressive Bangladesh as dreamt by Bangabandhu to build Sonar Bangla.
An unforgettable moment for Bangladesh
The inauguration of the Padma Bridge is going to be an "unforgettable moment" for the country's development, says Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh Charles Whiteley.
In a message, the EU envoy conveyed warmest congratulations to Bangladesh on the momentous occasion of the opening of the Padma Bridge on the 25th of June.
He said the Padma Bridge will add over 1.2 per cent to the GDP of the country.
"We look forward to using the bridge ourselves and to seeing what it does to facilitate people to people, family and commercial links. Congratulations, Bangladesh," said ambassador Whiteley.
It demonstrates what Bangladesh can do on its own
Appreciating Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's "far-sighted vision and political astuteness" Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki has said the completion of Padma Bridge demonstrates what Bangladesh can do for its economic development and stability.
"Padma Bridge has been done on its own initiative and on its own funding. This is the bridge of national dream and pride. This bridge will truly fulfill the growth potential of Bangladesh," he said at his residence on Tuesday.
The Japanese envoy said the year 2022 will be remembered by the world with so many examples of quality infrastructure including Padma Bridge inauguration on June 25 and partial inauguration of metro rail later this year.
He said Japan will continue to cooperate with Bangladesh for its development and will stand by this country in its development journey until the day Bangladesh fulfills vision 2041 and realizes the vision of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to build Sonar Bangla.
Responding to a question, ambassador Naoki said their focus remains on a number of mega projects in Dhaka, Chattogram and Cox's Bazar in line with the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) initiative for the construction of an industrial corridor.
But, he added, for the sake of this industrial corridor's (Dhaka, Ctg, Cox's Bazar) better use, there should be better nationwide connectivity to see inclusive development.
Naoki said the overall connectivity will be enhanced by the Padma Bridge and it will really vitalize the economy in Southern part of Bangladesh making rural economy vibrant.
With this significant development, he said, the Padma Bridge will have an enormous economic impact. "Though Dhaka and Chattogram remain the main stage of the economy, rural economic development is important."
The envoy said he is quite sure that there will be opportunities for the Japanese private sector to look into business and investment opportunities even outside the BIG-B areas once this Padma Bridge becomes operational with enhanced connectivity in place.
Recalling Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to Japan in 1996, Naoki said she made a request with the Japanese side for cooperation on two bridges - Padma Bridge and Rupsha Bridge.
Rupsha Bridge was constructed by the cooperation of Japan and for Padma Bridge while Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) conducted the preliminary feasibility study, he said.
"It is gratifying that Japan was able to be part of this project at the very beginning in the manner of conducting a feasibility study. This is something to bear in mind," Naoki said, adding that he conveyed his sincere congratulations to PM Hasina in person.
Responding to a question, he said it could have been desirable for the JICA to finance this Padma Bridge. "But you know the history. It was rather unfortunate that JICA could not be part of this...."
The ambassador, however, highly appreciated PM Hasina's decision to go only on its own funding. "This clearly demonstrates what this country is capable of doing on its own."
He said with the completion of the Padma Bridge, there is no doubt that the connectivity between Dhaka and Southern part of Bangladesh will be enhanced.
"I am sure that the transportation of goods will further be promoted and the economic impact of the bridge will be enormous," he added.
The ambassador said over the last 50 years building bridges has been a main stake of Japan's cooperation and Jamuna Bridge was the idea of Bangabandhu. So far, Japan has constructed 134 bridges across Bangladesh.
He said JICA has been working on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Railway Bridge over Jamuna River and it will further enhance connectivity between Dhaka and border areas.
Responding to a question, the ambassador said he is not familiar with the stage of the second Padma Bridge. "But I am sure that the second Padma Bridge will be a reality based on current one's success."
He said the Japanese government and JICA will be in a position to consider any possibility of participation in Bangladesh government's efforts. "We should seize the opportunity."
The envoy said whenever there is a possible participation to do quality infrastructure in Bangladesh, they remain ready to provide good technology and maintain a transparent process.
He extended his heartfelt congratulations to the government of Bangladesh and people of Bangladesh regarding completion of the Padma Bridge. "This is a wonderful milestone of the development journey of Bangladesh."
A major achievement by and for Bangladeshis
Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Jeremy Bruer has said the Padma Bridge is a major achievement by and for Bangladeshis which should make all of them proud.
In a message on Wednesday ahead of the formal inauguration of the Padma Bridge, the high commissioner said the bridge should give a significant boost to the national economy by reducing travel time and making it easier for people to move around the country, to conduct business and to see their families.
The bridge should also make it easier to connect Bangladeshis more efficiently with and drive economic growth in the dynamic Bay of Bengal region, he said.
On behalf of all Australians, the envoy congratulated the government and people of Bangladesh on the completion of this country's largest infrastructure project - the Padma Bridge which will connect 21 Southern districts with Dhaka.
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