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.
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.