Of De­vel­op­ment and Cor­rup­tion

The World Bank has led nu­mer­ous ed­u­ca­tional and de­vel­op­ment projects in Bangladesh. How­ever, cor­rup­tion has once again par­a­lyzed an­other in­ter­na­tional mone­tary or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Southasia - - Cover story - By S.G. Ji­la­nee S. G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of SouthA­sia Mag­a­zine.

The World Bank has played an im­por­tant role in trans­form­ing the life and land­scape of Bangladesh. By March 2012, the Bank had dis­bursed more than US$12bn out of a to­tal of US$18bn. Only a lit­tle over US$4bn re­mains undis­bursed.

The Bank has played an in­te­gral role in the coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment sec­tor. One of its projects ti­tled, “Reach­ing Out of School Chil­dren (ROSC)” seeks to pro­vide “sec­ond chance” pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion to dropouts. Be­tween 2004 and 2011, more than 750,000 out-of-school chil­dren had ben­e­fited through the 22,500 learn­ing cen­ters run­ning un­der the project. ROSC’s fund­ing con­sists of IDA’s orig­i­nal grant of US$51 mil­lion in 2004 with an ad­di­tional US$35 mil­lion ap­proved for this project in 2010 to broaden its im­pact.

These students came from 90 of the poor­est sub-dis­tricts (up­azi­las) of the coun­try and more than half of them are girls. The project “blends for­mal ed­u­ca­tion with non-for­mal means of de­liv­ery to the young learn­ers, pro­vid­ing them with an op­por­tu­nity to com­plete grade five and tran­si­tion to sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to avail­able data in 2004, nearly 1.5 mil­lion pri­mary school-aged chil­dren were out of school in Bangladesh. The gov­ern- ment’s Pri­mary Ed­u­ca­tion De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram, be­cause it fo­cused mainly on the for­mal pri­mary sec­tor, could not bring those chil­dren back to school who had missed out on school­ing at the right age or had been forced to drop out due to poverty. The ROSC project was there­fore launched, with IDA sup­port, to solve this prob­lem and achieve the coun­try’s “Ed­u­ca­tion For All” goal.

The ROSC project pro­vides stipends to students and grants to learn­ing cen­ters. With community man­age­ment as the ful­crum, but­tressed by a part­ner­ship be­tween the gov­ern­ment and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGOs), the ap­proach fo­cuses on the es­tab­lish­ment of learn­ing cen­ters. ROSC students tend to be older than reg­u­lar pri­mary school students thus op­er­a­tional pro­gram de­liv­ery dif­fers from the norms in pri­mary schools in or­der to cater to spe­cific needs of the students. Students from multi-grade backgrounds are taught by a sin­gle class teacher and both fol­low a flex­i­ble school tim­ing to suit their mu­tual needs.

The re­sults have been quite en­cour­ag­ing. Re­ports show that “Be­tween 2005 and 2011, the av­er­age stu­dent at­ten­dance rate ex­ceeded 90 per­cent, while the teacher ab­sence rate was kept be­low 10 per­cent.” Fur­ther­more, more than 80% of ROSC teach­ers were women and “close to 90 per­cent of all school man­age­ment com­mit­tee heads were fe­males.”

The Bangladesh Ru­ral Trans­port Im­prove­ment Project is an­other IDA project which, since its in­cep­tion in 2003, “has main­tained and im­proved more than 2,500 km of ru­ral roads and built or im­proved over 120 mar­ket cen­ters and more than 30 jet­ties.” The project has also cre­ated over 47,000 jobs and “re­duced travel times for mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cles by 58 per­cent dur­ing the dry sea­son and 65 per­cent dur­ing mon­soon sea­son, while non­mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cles had their travel times cut by 53 per­cent and 61 per­cent re­spec­tively.” The Project started with an orig­i­nal IDA credit of US$190 mil­lion. An­other US$20 mil­lion was pro­vided as ad­di­tional fi­nanc­ing in 2008 for flood re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work.

In ad­di­tion to this, the World Bank has also gen­er­ously funded Bangladesh’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Projects. These in­clude the Ar­senic Mit­i­ga­tion and Wa­ter Sup­ply and Dhaka Ur­ban Trans­port and Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment Projects.

The Ar­senic Mit­i­ga­tion and Wa­ter Sup­ply Project is a US$44.4 mil­lion project, jointly fi­nanced by the World Bank, Swiss De­vel­op­ment and Co­op­er­a­tion Agency and the UK. The ob­jec­tive is to al­le­vi­ate ar­senic wa­ter

con­tam­i­na­tion as a fac­tor in the re­duc­tion of ar­senic-in­duced mor­tal­ity and mor­bid­ity. As per de­scrip­tion, the pro­gram will in­clude the in­stal­la­tion of tube­wells in ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas, hard­ware for rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing or san­i­ta­tion plants as well as ponds with fil­ter sys­tems.

The Dhaka Ur­ban Trans­port Project is a US$177 mil­lion World Bank funded project. Its two ma­jor ob­jec­tives in­clude, im­prov­ing ur­ban trans­port ser­vices in an eco­nom­i­cally and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able man­ner and strength­en­ing the in­sti­tu­tional and pol­icy frame­work to ad­dress long-term trans­port plan­ning is­sues in the Greater Dhaka Metropoli­tan Area.

In ad­di­tion to two such large scale projects, the Bank has also given the Bangladeshi gov­ern­ment a US$5 mil­lion loan to work on the Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment Project. This project aims to ad­dress the rapidly “wors­en­ing air pol­lu­tion prob­lems in Dhaka and se­lected cities,” in­clud­ing (a) air pol­lu­tion con­trol strate­gies for the trans­port sec­tor, par­tic­u­larly cleaner fu­els and lu­bri­cants for two-stroke engine ve­hi­cles; (b) air pol­lu­tion mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment and train­ing; and (c) air pol­lu­tion in­ven­tory and source as­sess­ment anal­y­sis.

With IDA as­sis­tance sub­stan- tial progress has been made to­wards achiev­ing food-grain self suf­fi­ciency. “Eas­ier farmer ac­cess to mi­nor ir­ri­ga­tion equip­ment, power tillers and fer­til­izer has brought about a fun­da­men­tal change in small­hold­ers’ pro­duc­tiv­ity and in­comes. IDA has also made a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion in ex­pand­ing man­grove forestry which in turn has ad­dressed en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and pro­tec­tion of vul­ner­a­ble shore­lines.”

But as the say­ing goes; where there is money there is cor­rup­tion. So it hap­pened that the Bank can­celed its $1.2 bil­lion fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to the Padma Bridge project in June this year.

Padma Bridge is a mul­ti­pur­pose road-rail bridge across the Padma River. “The two-level steel truss bridge will carry a four-lane high­way on the up­per level and a sin­gle track rail­way on a lower level. The project will in­clude a 6.15km long and 21.10 m wide bridge, 15.1km of ap­proach roads, toll plazas and ser­vice ar­eas and will con­nect three dis­tricts -Mun­shi­ganj, Shari­at­pur and Madaripur, link­ing the south-west of the coun­try to north­ern and eastern re­gions.”

Giv­ing rea­sons for can­cel­ing the loan, the World Bank in a state­ment said it “has cred­i­ble ev­i­dence which points to a high level cor­rup­tion con­spir­acy among Bangladesh gov­ern- ment of­fi­cials” and other agen­cies in con­nec­tion with the Project. The state­ment fur­ther said that the “WB pro­vided ev­i­dence from two in­ves­ti­ga­tions to the prime min­is­ter, the fi­nance min­is­ter and the anti-cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion chair­man and urged the Bangladesh au­thor­i­ties to in­ves­ti­gate this mat­ter fully and, where jus­ti­fied, pros­e­cute those re­spon­si­ble for cor­rup­tion.” Though the Bangladeshi au­thor­i­ties voiced se­ri­ous dis­con­tent with the Bank’s is­sue and vowed to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter fur­ther, the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse was deemed un­sat­is­fac­tory.

In con­se­quence, the World Bank can­celed its US$1.2 bil­lion credit for the Padma Bridge project.

Though the World Bank has re­mained an im­por­tant fi­nan­cial player in Bangladesh, per­me­at­ing cor­rup­tion has proved to be a se­ri­ous hur­dle for any de­vel­op­ment in the coun­try. De­spite uti­liz­ing trans­par­ent meth­ods and work­ing dili­gently with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, the Bank has un­for­tu­nately fallen prey to the men­ace of cor­rup­tion thus se­verely hurt­ing Bangladesh’s na­tional de­vel­op­ment and tar­nish­ing its in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion.

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