Chattogram, Feb 24: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina here on Sunday opened the boring works of her government’s ambitious tunnel project under the Karnaphuli River saying she expects Bangladesh to be a “world wonder” with its spectacular development.“I want to build Bangladesh in such a way so that the entire world looks at it (country) with surprise . . . this is my expectation, nothing else” she told a civic rally to mark the ceremony at Patenga here this afternoon, BSS reported.
The premier added: “I don’t want name and wealth. My only desire is that the people of Bangladesh to move keeping their head high.”
The underwater expressway tunnel, named after Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, will be 3.4 kilometres in length and 10 metres in width, will be the first of its kind in Bangladesh aiming to improve the Dhaka-Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar highway network.
Sheikh Hasina said she wanted to do fresh things so the country could move with dignity with its solvent citizens and the tunnel was part of those initiatives.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, Senior Secretary of Bridges Division Khandakar Anwarul Islam and Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Zhang Zou also spoke at the function as a Chinese company was selected as the consultant to construct the tunnel.
A representative of China Communication Construction Company Ltd (CCCC), the consultant, presented a replica of the tunnel to the prime minister.
Sheikh Hasina said since Bangabandhu’s 1975 assassination, Bangladesh for years was being branded as a country of famine, cyclone and tidal surge and these “negative comments always pained me”.
Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh had emerged as a victorious nation earning its independence through shedding blood in its great Liberation War and therefore such a negative branding was unexpected.
The premier said she is working relentlessly to develop the country and bring smiles on the faces of the common people, empowered with education, healthcare services and dignified shelter which was a “dream of my father and which he wanted time and again”.
“Becoming penniless and losing everything, I returned home to work for the country (and) I am working with an ideology,” she said referring to her return from exile in 1981.
She added that her parents’ lifelong struggle to bring smiles on the faces of the distressed people was the greatest motivation for her mission for the country.
The premier said the country now witnessed the construction of another mega project “Padma Bridge” with the country’s own funding.
Sheikh Hasina said she preferred the structure to be named after the mighty Padma River declining to accept proposals by different quarters including the road transport and bridges minister to name it after her.
“We’re constructing the bridge with our own fund. The bridge is now visible . . . as so many things happened with the bridge, it should be named as Padma Bridge and there is no necessity to add any other name to it,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina recalled that the foundation of the Padma Bridge was laid during the first tenure of her 1996-2001 government after carrying out its feasibility study while the subsequent BNP-Jamaat government stopped the work of the bridge and changed its alignment.
“They wasted the time saying that the bridge will be constructed at another place instead of the present one,” she said.
The prime minister said after assuming office again in 2009, her government took initiatives for building the bridge again and everybody expressed interest and came forward to help construct the bridge.
“The World Bank, the ADB and others showed eagerness to give financial assistance in this regard while the World Bank (WB) emerged as the most interested fund provider,” she said.
But, the premier said, at one point the WB brought corruption allegations involving the project when “I questioned how the allegation could be valid while not a single taka was released till then”.
Sheikh Hasina said the WB had no answer but they subsequently said that “a conspiracy of graft took place”.
“At that time the World Bank carried out false propaganda … some of their integrity officers used to visit Bangladesh for that purpose,” she said.
The premier said she had challenged the WB to prove their allegation, and declined to accept their funds for the project as well unless they could do so.
Sheikh Hasina said she then asked her economic affairs adviser Dr Moshiur Rahman to send a letter to the WB asking them to prove their allegation and despite repeated reminders no World Bank reply came.
Sheikh Hasina recalled during that period the then WB vice-president visited Bangladesh sometimes and “I also asked him to prove where the graft took place?”
“Due to our pressure, they sent a letter containing the allegation of graft in two projects that occurred in 2002 during the BNP-Jamaat regime with the schemes being Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway Project and Siddirganj Power Plant,” she said.
The premier added: “The Padma Bridge had no link with those two projects”.
Without mentioning the names of anybody, the premier said that it is unfortunate that “some people of our country put blame on us for so-called corruption in the Padma Bridge”.
She said there are editors and owners of two renowned newspapers and a man of Chittagong who won Nobel Prize by doing interest trade and eating up the money of the people carried out propaganda simultaneously in the (US) State Department.
Sheikh Hasina said he used to maintain contact with his friend Hillary Clinton through emails on this issue and eventually the World Bank had stopped funding in the Padma Bridge project.
“Then we started the construction of the bridge with own financing as a challenge,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said later a case was filed in the Canadian Federal Court, but the World Bank could not prove anything. “In the verdict, the court said no graft took place and whatever the bank said are false and fabricated,” she said.
The prime minister said two years were wasted for this, and many had a notion that the development of Bangladesh is not possible without the World Bank. “Besides the finance minister, there was an adviser who created pressure on me,” she said.
She said that the World Bank gave various conditions including arrest of some people, saying that they will finance the Padma Bridge project if their conditions are fulfilled.
“I told the World Bank authorities to prove the allegation first,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said she had to engage in quarrel with the World Bank and had to go through mental torment. “You can’t understand it,” she said.
The prime minister said by the grace of almighty Allah, the government has been able to launch the construction work of the bridge with own funding. “Now the bridge is visible,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the construction of Karnaphuli Tunnel will bolster industrial development, flourish tourism and expand trade and commerce near the project area, creating employment and boosting exports.
The prime minister said Bangladesh is making progress in an indomitable pace and it could be possible due to the continuation of democracy.
“None will remain poor and homeless. We will construct houses for homeless people. Electricity will go to each household of the country soon,” the prime minister said.
Sheikh Hasina said the nation will celebrate the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 2020 and golden jubilee of independence in 2021.
“We shall also turn Bangladesh into a middle income country by 2021 and a developed and prosperous one by 2041, Insha Allah,” she added.