In My View
Tomorrow: The day of national pride and self-reliance
Tomorrow will be like the moon landing day for Bangladesh. As the Americans and millions across the world watched the first humans walk on the moon 53 years ago with a sense of extreme pride and amazement, so will millions of Bangladeshis tomorrow when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurates the longest ever bridge of the country over the Padma River.
This will be truly Bangladesh's moon moment! People across the country from corner to corner will be glued to the television to watch the making of history as the prime minister opens the brand new bridge over one of the biggest rivers of Bangladesh to vehicular traffic. It will be certainly a historic moment as the most challenging infrastructure project in the history of Bangladesh finally becomes a reality.
Thousands are expected to crowd both sides of the river, now connected by a 6.15 kilometer-long road-and-rail bridge built entirely with Bangladesh's own money, to witness history as the first vehicles cross the landmark passage of the nation. One day many of these people will proudly tell their children and grandchildren that they were on the scene when the Padma Bridge was inaugurated back in 2022.
And their wide-eyed off springs will listen to the greatest story of their life with absolute captivation and fascination. They will wonder how it was possible to build a bridge over Padma as people from neither side can see anything across such a wide river. And like the future generations, many of the current generations too never thought that it would be ever possible to build a bridge over the Padma River.
In the early 1960s when Russia was leading the space race, a young, patriotic and courageous American decided to beat them in the race to the moon. When no one, not even the Americans thought that humans would ever be able to go to the moon, President John F. Kennedy envisioned it. And as he predicted that "America will go to the moon before this decade is out," the US astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon and walk there on July 20 in 1969 stunning the whole world.
Similarly, just about a decade ago no one in Bangladesh ever thought that they would see a bridge over the vast Padma River in their lifetime. Even Bangladesh's development partners had skepticism about its ability to build a bridge of this size over a big river like Padma on its own using only its domestic resources. But with her extraordinary courage, patriotism and determination, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina materialized the dream project of the country surprising many people at home and abroad.
The Padma Bridge project hit a snag in the very beginning when the World Bank, the principal financier of the project, brought some charges of bidding irregularities against a number of Bangladeshi government officials. The global lending agency stated that they found credible evidence of a high-level conspiracy of corruption among few Bangladeshi government officials, executives of Canadian construction company SNC-Lavalin and private individuals in connection with the Padma Bridge project.
And in light of what it described as "inadequate response" from the Bangladesh government, the World Bank cancelled the $1.2 billion IDA credit it approved for financing the bridge construction. After the cancellation of the IDA credit, many Bangladeshis as well as the development partners of Bangladesh thought that the dream project of Bangladesh ended right there. But they were wrong! The World Bank decision couldn't stop Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from going ahead with the bridge construction.
She took an extremely courageous step to continue the execution of the dream project with Bangladesh's own resources and assured the nation that there would be a bridge across the Padma River. National pride, the spirit of self-reliance and the leadership of Sheikh Hasina fired up Bangladeshi people. They extended their whole-hearted support to her decision and an animated prime minister attached highest priority to the project and completed it with Bangladesh's own money in just about eight years ignoring little resistance from her government.
According to an old adage, there is always a blessing in disguise in an adverse situation. And it came true once again over the construction of the Padma Bridge. By defiantly going ahead with the bridge project with entirely domestic resources under the courageous leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh stood out as a self-reliant nation in the world showcasing the strength of its national economy and earning respect and reputation for itself from the global community.
In addition to building a new image among its development partners as an emerging economic power with the ability to take up and finish mega projects on its own, Bangladesh also made significant financial gains by self-financing the construction of the multibillion-dollar bridge. Even if the World Bank would charge a bare minimum interest on $1.2 billion IDA credit it approved for the bridge construction, it would take decades for Bangladesh to repay the principal and interest on the loan to the global lending agency.
Although the country spent a whopping $3.6 billion for the construction of the Padma Bridge, its benefits will far outweigh the costs. According to a World Bank study, at least 30 million people, shy of one-fifth of Bangladesh's total population will directly benefit from the bridge. And as estimated by economists, the bridge will increase the gross domestic product (GDP) of Bangladesh by 1.2 percent and create employment opportunities for 10 million people. The Padma Bridge will also significantly boost commercial and industrial activities in 21 southwestern districts of Bangladesh.
But even though the bridge will create so much opportunity for the people and make so much contribution to the national economy of Bangladesh, some people persistently opposed the dream project of the country right from the beginning. Even today, hours before the inauguration of the landmark bridge, those folks do not seem to be happy. Instead of congratulating the government on a job well done, Bangladesh's main opposition party BNP continues to speak against the Padma Bridge -- a move that doesn't look very patriotic.
Some people of Bangladeshi origin in the United States are reportedly planning to celebrate the inauguration of the Padma Bridge tomorrow in front of the World Bank office in Washington. Any celebration around the World Bank office will mean teasing the global lending agency for its cancellation of $1.2 billion IDA credit for the bridge construction. This kind of provocation must be avoided. This is the time to celebrate, not humiliate any person or institution. The World Bank has always been the most important development partner of Bangladesh since independence.
The Padma Bridge is not just the greatest pride of the nation; it is also the greatest symbol of self-reliance. The beautiful bridge standing proudly over the Padma has also become part of the culture of Bangladesh. A few days ago, the newborn triplets in Narayanganj were named after the Padma Bridge -- "Swapno, Padma and Setu" (Dream, Padma and Bridge). After hearing this, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sent congratulatory notes to the parents and special gifts for the babies. Bangladeshi musicians have already composed a song on the bridge which has been sung by popular singer Samina Chowdhury.
Every nation has some days of special significance. So does Bangladesh, such as the Independence Day and the Victory Day. Tomorrow will be another historic day for this country because on this day the longest ever bridge will be inaugurated opening up enormous economic opportunities for the nation. The Padma Bridge hasn't been renamed after any individual. The prime minister decided to keep it unchanged. But, one name will certainly remain forever attached to the history of the bridge and that name is Sheikh Hasina.
The writer is a Toronto-based
journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun as a guest columnist