Padma Bridge levy on cards

Shakhawat Hossain

The government is going to revive its plan to impose additional levy on nearly a dozen of items, including mobile phone, air tickets and land sales for mobilising fund for construction of the Padma Bridge on own finance, officials said.

Finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith has already given a verbal order to the National Board of Revenue to work out a plan in this connection, said the NBR officials.

They said the finance minister would hold a meeting with them soon to finalise the plan that the government hopes would enable it to generate more than Tk 8,000 crore annually in the next three years.

The government in last June had directed the NBR to impose additional levy after the WB suspended its $1.2 billion credit to the bridge project. But the plan was shelved after the WB agreed to revive the fund in September last year.

In another development the finance ministry has asked the Bridge Division, main implementing agency of the bridge project, to prepare an annual demand for construction of the Padma Bridge.
Padma Bridge project director Shafiqul Islam said they were assessing the annual demand after AMA Muhith told parliament on Monday that around Tk 24,000 crore would be required to complete the mega project in four years.

Shafiqul Islam said they were in a hurry as the finance ministry would allocate additional fund to the division for the project in the revised budget in the current fiscal.

The bridge division has already made an assessment suggesting that highest Tk 9,800 crore might be needed in the second year of construction, he said.

The government is forced to mobilise fund from domestic sources for the construction of the Padma Bridge after it decided not to take a $1.2 billion loan from the World Bank.

It withdrew its request to the WB for the credit last week citing the bank’s delay in taking decision on the loan.

The present government decided to construct the 6.1 kilometre bridge over the river Padma on own funding to ‘implement an election pledge.’ It pointed out that waiting further for the WB loan might make the project uncertain.

The NBR officials said potential areas for imposition of levy were users of mobile and other phones, air travellers and passengers of luxury buses and sales and transfer of land in Dhaka and suburban areas.

Besides, car sales, soft drinks, new gas and electricity connections, advertisement in radio and television, food in luxury hotels and restaurants, tobacco and bank deposit are on the provisional list of the revenue board, they said.

Economists expressed doubt about the government’s capacity to mobilise fund for construction of the bridge on own finance after the Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and Islamic Development Bank, all co-financiers, quit the project after the government’s decision not to take the WB loan.

Ahsan H Munsur, former International Monetary Fund official, said it would be a ‘surprise’ if the government succeeded in building the bridge at a low cost.

Former caretaker adviser Mirza Azizul Islam said the country macro-economy would suffer if the government built the bridge on own funding.

Communications minister Obaudul Quder last Tuesday revealed that prime minster Sheikh Hasina would inaugurate river training work of the bridge project on March 2 at Zanjira point.

The prime minister will announce a package detailing an alternative plan for the mega bridge project, said Quader, adding that it would be cleared which donor agencies or foreign countries would assist the government to execute its new plan.

He said China, India and Malaysia have shown interest in financing the project after the government announced its decision to implement the project on own funding.

Source: New Age