The government is taking Tk 10 billion from Islami Bank Bangladesh Limited for the Padma bridge project. And Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal sees no problem with taking money from an institution that is operating as a legitimate bank.
The minister told bdnews24.com on Tuesday in an interview he had chosen to ignore the controversy surrounding the bank.
“We have to move forward. There will be no development in this country if we’re held down by every other controversy.”
“Islami Bank has a successful banking operation in this country. No one has any problem with that.
“It seems unacceptable to me that they would have a problem with the bank investing in the Padma bridge,” he said.
Recently, the government faced a barrage of criticism following media reports that the bank, believed to have Jamaat-e-Islami links, had donated Tk 30 million for an Independence Day programme.
The controversy forced the government to announce that the money would not be going to the event.
The cultural affairs minister later held a press conference where he said Islami Bank had tried to ‘trick’ the government into taking the money.
The planning minister, however, wants to move on with the bridge, long-awaited and delayed by rows with donors.
“I have asked the Islami Bank chairman for Tk 10 billion for the Padma bridge. He has promised me the bank will invest this money in the project,” he told bdnews24.com in the interview.
State Minister for Planning MA Mannan and Planning Secretary Bhuiyan Shafiqul Islam were present in his room during the interview.
Ganajagaran Mancha alleges that Jamaat-e-Islami, the party that opposed the Liberation War, has control over Islami Bank’s ownership.
Former Islami Bank vice-chairman Mir Kashem Ali is a member of the party’s central committee. He is accused of committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War.
Current Chairman Abu Nasser Mohammad Abduz Zaher was allegedly a leader of the pro-Pakistan militia Al-Badr in Chittagong during the war.
Former Islami Bank chairman Shah Abdul Hannan is also known to have close ties with Jamaat.
Former deputy director Syed Abdullah Md Saleh is the brother of Jamaat MP Syed Abdullah Md Taher.
“Islami Bank is a partner organisation of the Islamic Development Bank. We’re taking money for the project from IDB; there’s no problem in that,” he said.
“Why should there be a problem if we take Islami Bank’s money?”
Bangladesh Cricket Board controversially gave Islami Bank the task of decorating the capital before the ICC World Cup in 2011, while Kamal was the president of the board.
The IDB had committed a $140 million aid for the bridge. Asked whether Islami Bank’s Tk 10 billion was linked to IDB’s $ 140 million, the planning minister said there was none.
After a tug-of-war with the World Bank over graft allegations involving top government officials and ministers, the Sheikh Hasina-led government withdrew its funding request in January last year.
The global lender had pledged $1.2 billion. Asian Development Bank and Japan International Cooperation Agency also withdrew from the project. IDB has not yet made any such announcements.
The government is now financing the project by itself, but Finance Minister AMA Muhith has said contributions are welcome.
The planning minister said he had also asked Shariah-based banks in the country to put together Tk 10 billion to invest in the bridge.
He said he was expecting a total of Tk 20 billion investment from the Islamic banking sector.
Exim Bank, ICB Islami Bank, Union Bank, Shahjalal Islami Bank, First Security Islami Bank, Al Arafah Bank and Social Islami Bank operate on Shariah-based principles.
Kamal evaded a question about whether the World Bank would return to the project, saying instead that Bangladesh was on good terms with the global lender.
“In this fiscal, the World Bank is giving us $ 2.8 billion in various development projects – more than double the $ 1.2 billion they were going to give for the Padma bridge,” he said.
“This shows that our relations have not deteriorated, rather we are enjoying a better relationship than any time in the past.”
The minister said the main construction work of the bridge would start in June-July.