Bangladesh marks opening of country’s longest bridge

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) – Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday celebrated the opening of the country’s longest bridge, which took eight years to build amid setbacks related to political conflict and corruption allegations.

The 6.51-kilometer bridge over the Padma River cost an estimated $3.6 billion and was paid for with domestic funds after the World Bank and other global credit institutions refused to fund the project following a bribery scandal involving a Canadian construction company. to the bridge.

The bridge, which opens to the public on Sunday, will improve connections with the country’s capital, Dhaka, and reduce the distance between the city and Bangladesh’s second-largest seaport, Mongla, by 100 kilometers.

“The bridge belongs to the people of Bangladesh. It sums up our passion, creativity, courage, endurance and perseverance,” Hasina said at a ceremony in Mawa, about 31 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Dhaka.

While not directly part of China’s Belt and Road Infrastructure initiative, the bridge was built by the China Major Bridge Engineering Company Ltd. and is seen by Beijing as a milestone for China-Bangladesh cooperation, according to a statement by Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming.

The China Railway Group has said that Padma Bridge will later have a rail network that links up with other Belt and Road projects and will serve as an important link between China and a pan-Asian rail network.

Economists say the Padma Bridge will increase Bangladesh’s gross domestic product by an additional 1.3% a year, adding to the Asian Development Bank’s robust growth forecast that predicts Bangladesh’s economy will grow $465 billion with 6.9% in 2021-22 and 7.1% in 2022-23.

Officials said the bridge will connect at least 21 districts in the southern and southwestern regions of Bangladesh.

Experts say the bridge’s construction, which involved more than 4,000 engineers, was a major engineering challenge. The bridge’s underwater piles extend to 122 meters (400 feet) deep, a world record, and a total of 41 pillars are needed. At some points in the river, the water flow rate is only second to the Amazon River worldwide.

After corruption allegations surfaced by the World Bank involving a Canadian construction company, the World Bank said in a 2012 statement that it found elements of corruption in the plans for the Padma Bridge and decided to stay away from funding $1 .2 billion from the project.

The decision prompted other lenders, including the Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency and Islamic Development Bank, to distance themselves from the project. Hasina then said Bangladesh would build the bridge with domestic funds.

The corruption charges went to a higher court in Ontario, Canada, which acquitted three former top executives of SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian company, in an international bribery case linked to the construction of the bridge in 2017.

Hasina also defied bitter criticism from her political opposition led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia during the bridge’s construction.

The opposition criticized Hasina’s government for tripling the budget over the years and accused the authorities of corruption. Hasina dismissed the allegations.

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