Abdur Rahim Harmachi
The World Bank’s Country Director for Bangladesh, Ellen Goldstein on Saturday said she will be ‘remembered’ for the Padma Bridge project, which is currently caught up over alleged graft-related complexities.
The outgoing WB official, whose term expires in January this year, acknowledged Bangladesh’s discontent over the failure to launch the much awaited project. She said it was a top priority to ensure ‘transparency in the use of public money’.
She was speaking on the Padma issue at a programme of the Economic Relations Division.
It was during this programme that Salman Zaheer, an Indian national, was named as the new Acting Country Director – to take charge from February till the appointment of the next Country Director this year.
Ellen Goldstein took charge as the Country Director of Bangladesh in Nov 2009.
In her speech, she said that after graft allegations surfaced in the Padma project, the WB took steps to ensure a strong investigation into the matter – one that will also be a “milestone”.
The WB was expected to lend $ 1.2 billion in the $ 2.91 billion Padma project. However, further progress in the project was halted since the Washington-based lending agency brought graft allegations.
The 6.1 kilometre Padma Bridge is till date the biggest infrastructure project in the country, and one of the electoral promises of the ruling Awami League.
The WB had finally agreed to a conditional return after several attempts of the Bangladesh government. However, they said they would await the results of the Anti-Corruption Commission’s probe before coming to a final decision.
The Additional Secretary of the Economic Relations Division, Arastu Khan said he was hopeful about the project.
Economic Relations Secretary Abul Kalam Azad blamed the donors for delays in various projects.
Citing an example he said: “It is not only the government which is responsible for the delay. Despite all the papers relating to a project being ready the World Bank didn’t give the money even within 140 day.”
During her tenure as the Country Director Goldstein drew a lot of flak from various quarters of the government and it was mainly on the Padma project, with which she claimed to have been “deeply involved”.
The mega infrastructure project was one of the electoral promises of the ruling Awami League but its construction work couldn’t be started within four years.
Salman new WB Acting Country Head
Meanwhile, a World Bank press release on Saturday named Salman Zaheer as the World Bank’s Acting Country Director for Bangladesh and he will succeed Ellen Goldstein – whose term ends in January.
He will take up his new role from February and continue till the appointment of the next Country Director, due this year, the release added.
Serving the World Bank for the past years, Zaheer focused mainly on the energy sector (power, oil & gas). He has also worked on improving urban water supply services in India.
He was the Bank’s Program Director of Regional Integration in South Asia.
Before that, he served as Sector Manager for the Bank’s South Asia energy program covering Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
He had provided investment and advisory services to support energy sector reform and development efforts in Eastern Europe (Bulgaria), the former Soviet Union (Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Lithuania, Ukraine), Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh and other countries of South Asia.
Prior to joining the World Bank, Zaheer worked in the chemical and petrochemical industry for over a decade in the United States and internationally in the areas of business development, manufacturing, research, and technical services.
He has a Bachelor’s of Science degree from the Delhi University, and graduate degrees from the US in Business Administration and in Economics/International Relations.
Ellen Goldsten is leaving Bangladesh amidst the ongoing tussle between the current government and the World Bank over the Bank’s pledged funding to the Padma Bridge project.
She had been serving as the Country Director for Bangladesh since November, 2009, and that of Nepal since 2011. She had joined the Bank as a macro-economist in 1988.