China made a commitment to provide Tk 1,700 billion for the implementation of 27 projects including the inclusion of railway lines along the Padma Bridge, the construction of a tunnel under the Karnaphuli river and development in information and communication technology.
Three years have already elapsed, but loan agreements have been signed to merely fund for five projects. China has provided only Tk 81.60 billion, which is five per cent of the commitment.
During Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to Bangladesh in October of 2016, some 27 projects were finalised. The implementation of these projects was supposed to be completed by 2020. Only 14 months are left.
The joint working group (JWG) consisting of officials of two countries is supposed to meet this month in Dhaka to find a solution to the delay in implementing projects.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, foreign secretary Shahidul Haque said the JWG was formed during prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Beijing in July 2019 to find out the reasons behind the delay.
“We hope the implementation of the projects will gain pace following the recommendations of the JWG,” he said.
According to the foreign ministry, the JWG was formed following the slow progress of the implementation of loan agreements with India. Following the recommendations of the JWG, the implementation of loan agreement with India has been expedited.
Bangladesh diplomats, who have experience of work in Dhaka and Beijing, said the bureaucracy of both the countries tends to be slow in the implementation of the projects. It is mandatory to consult different committees for approval of the projects in Bangladesh, they pointed out.
On the contrary, if China does not understand the project documents, the country sends back these to Bangladesh, seeking fresh documents. Simultaneously the Chinese contractors start lobbying in both the countries to get work orders. This leads to delay in the project implementation. After the completion of the entire process, China also takes time to release funds.
According to ERD sources, out of 27 projects, five projects are: Inclusion of railway lines along the Padma Bridge, the construction of a tunnel under the Karnaphuli river, the construction of an oil pipeline and mooring from Maheskhali to Chattogram, the expansion of national information technology network and telecommunication network development.
The loan agreement of US 426 crore dollars was signed for these five projects.
China has so far provided 96 crore US dollars (Tk 81.60 billion). Some 53 crore US dollars were given for the inclusion of railways in the Padma Bridge, 19 crore US dollars for the construction of tunnel under the Karnaphuli River, eight crore US dollars for oil pipeline, 12 crore US dollars for the expansion of information technology network and four crore US dollars for the telecommunication network.
The remaining 22 projects have seen no progress. Of them, seven projects are of communication infrastructure, six on power and energy and rest for local government, information and communication technology.
According to the Economic Relations Division (ERD) sources, Bangladesh will press for the implementation of 10 projects on priority basis in the JWG meeting scheduled to be held this month. The projects include Dhaka-Ashulia flyover, six complete TV centres and the modernisation of state-owned jute mills under BJMC.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, former Bangladesh ambassador to China, Munshi Faiz Ahmad said China will try to gain as much as possible by funding here. So Bangladesh should ensure the loan facility on easy terms from China, and the funds have to be utilised properly.
Having experience of working on big projects, a former diplomat said the cost goes up if the implementation of a project is delayed. Sometimes there is no option for fresh negotiations. So it is very important to finish work within stipulated time.
Following the meeting of prime minister Sheikh Hasina and Chinese president Xi Jinping in Dhaka on 14 October 2016, 27 deals, MoUs and trade documents were signed.
The deals are: Sixteen agreements and MoUs and 11 trade deals for loan and finance. Several agreements and MoUs on same issue were signed. One MoU was signed between the Bangladesh industries ministry and the Chinese commerce ministry to enhance capacity for investment and production. Under the MoU, a total of 27 investment projects of 2,000 crore US dollars (Tk 1700 billion) were identified.
Large infrastructure expert and former secretary M Fouzul Kabir Khan said China has pledged to provide huge funds to spread its political influence. But the funds have not been allocated in actuality. So the implementation of the project is being delayed.
* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.