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SAM

Published:
2018-06-27 12:20:46 BdST

Govt backtracks on taking Saudi loan


FT ONLINE

Bangladesh has scrapped its decision on taking US$ 1.0 billion financial support from Saudi Arabia for building over 550 model mosques, officials said.

On Tuesday, the government's economic council revised the 560-model mosque project.

The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) decided to implement the project on government resources.

Presided over by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the ECNEC endorsed the project in Dhaka along with 13 other schemes at a cost of Tk 161.47 billion.

"Since the Saudi government hasn't confirmed its pledged fund yet, we have decided to set up the mosques on our own," said Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal after the ECNEC meeting.

The Islamic Foundation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs took up the project at Tk 90.62 billion in April last year.

It was hopeful about getting the Saudi grant.

A government official said the authorities sought ECNEC approval for the project last year based on the assurance of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The king pledged the fund during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to the kingdom in June 2016.

The fund confirmation was affected when Riyadh arrested 11 princes, including a prominent billionaire, and dozens of current and former ministers, in a sweeping crackdown.

The crown prince consolidated power in November last year.

Mustafa Kamal said since there are some changes and developments in the kingdom, the Prime Minister has decided not to request the donor for disbursing the grant.

"We've been able to finance the multi-billion dollar Padma Bridge project from our own resources. So we will be able to set up the mosques from our own funds," he said.

Although the Economic Relations Division (ERD) requested Saudi Arabia to confirm its grant for Bangladesh repeatedly, the donor had not responded positively, said a division official.

He said that since the important portfolios inside the Saudi government underwent changes, the pledged fund could be delayed further.

According to the revised project proposal, the Islamic Foundation Bangladesh will construct the mosques-cum-Islamic cultural centres by December 2020.

Once constructed, some 2,200 people will be able to offer their prayers at a time in each of the mosque.

According to the ministry, there are currently some 0.26 million mosques across the country and those are not in good shape.

Under the project, model mosques in 64 districts and 16 coastal areas will be four-storey buildings, while the rest buildings will be three-storey.

The ECNEC approved some other projects including the procurement of rolling stocks for the Bangladesh Railway at Tk 36.02 billion.

The construction of Gopalganj zone highways at Tk 4.89 billion, upgrading the Mymensingh region highway at Tk 5.68 billion, and building of four-lane flyover on Dhaka-Sylhet Highway project at Tk 3.53 billion are among the projects that got seal of approval from the top economic policymaking body.

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