Access Sought to World Bank Reports on Bangladesh

20 July 2012

Efforts are being made to obtain public access to two reports sent by the World Bank to the Bangladesh government about possible corruption surrounding a major bridge project.

Release of the reports is at the discretion of the government, which so far as declined to disclose them.

Another World Bank report on the same project, sent to the Canadian government last summer, helped spark legal action by Canada against a Canadian firm involved with the Padma bridge project.

The World Bank on June 29 withdrew $1.2 billion in loan support for the $2.9 billion project because of alleged corruption. No charges have been filed by the Bangladeshi government, which has pledged to complete the project.

The World Bank could eventually release redacted versions of the reports prepared by its anticorruption unit, but typically waits until after the governments involved have a chance to act on the information provided.

A  lawyer in Bangladesh, Ekhlas Uddin Bhuiyan, has filed for access to the reports,, alleging that they should be disclosed subject to the country’s Right to Information Act, according to a Daily Star article.

“There is confusion among the people regarding Padma bridge corruption created by countless news reports in foreign and local media,” Bhuiyan’s press release said.  “So it would be against the constitution and the Right to Information Act not to publish the correct information on this issue,” it said.

“Finance Minister AMA Muhith brushed the allegations of corruption aside and hoped the WB would review its decision,” The Daily Start reported. “The opposition BNP, however, maintains that ‘corruption’ by the top government officials forced the WB to cancel the funding. It has been demanding that the government publish the letters sent by WB.”

In an email interview with The Daily Star, World Bank country director Ellen Goldstein said the government may disclose the Bank’s reports containing “evidence of corruption” in the Padma bridge project.

She said in part:

 The Integrity Vice Presidency looked into corruption allegations under the Padma Bridge project and found sufficient credible evidence to warrant national investigation. We presented the same evidence to the Canadian authorities who found it sufficiently credible to launch their own investigation. This has now led to arrests of high-ranking private executives in Canada on charges related to the Padma Bridge. This alone should be sufficient to convince the Bangladeshi authorities of the need to conduct their own full and fair investigation.

Among other details about the Bank’s interactions with the government, she said, “In April, we suggested a number of measures to strengthen the integrity of the investigative process. This included temporarily excluding from public service those public officials both civil servants and political appointees–alleged to have engaged in corrupt behavior, for the duration of the investigation. This is global good practice for corruption investigations in order to protect public interests. Unfortunately, this is one of several measures to which Government was not able to commit, contributing to our decision to cancel the loan.”

The Bank submitted two reports to the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), first in September 2011 and again in April 2012.

 

The Integrity Vice Presidency (INT) has its own disclosure policy, effective in February 2011. See also a Q&A about the policy on a web page that includes the policy in various languages.

 

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In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
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