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China to Play Important Role in Bangladesh’s First ‘Smart City’

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2019-11-27
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Phillip Weijing Yu, chairman of Delcot Water Limited, (left) shakes hands with Sultan Ahmed, chairman of Dhaka’s infrastructure development authority, as other officials look on during the contract-signing ceremony in Dhaka for a water project for the planned Purbachal township, Nov. 11, 2019.
Phillip Weijing Yu, chairman of Delcot Water Limited, (left) shakes hands with Sultan Ahmed, chairman of Dhaka’s infrastructure development authority, as other officials look on during the contract-signing ceremony in Dhaka for a water project for the planned Purbachal township, Nov. 11, 2019.
[Courtesy of Capital City Development Authority (RAJUK)]

A Sino-Bangladeshi joint venture company will build a U.S. $72-million water distribution network for Bangladesh’s first “smart city,” which is to be constructed on the outskirts of Dhaka, officials said.

The Bangladeshi and Chinese governments announced earlier this year that firms from China would play a major role in creating Bangladesh’s “biggest planned township” known as Purbachal, a 6,150-acre (2,489-hectare), high-tech center in the northeast suburbs of the capital.

“We have signed an agreement with a China-Bangladesh joint venture company, United Delcot Water Limited, to build the water distribution and supply facilities at the Purbachal township,” Ujjwal Mallick, the project director and an official with the Capital City Development Authority (RAJUK), a government agency, told BenarNews this week.

Bangladesh signed the deal with United Delcot Water on Nov. 11 under the nation’s Public-Private Partnership initiative, Mallick said. The joint venture is a business alliance between the United Water Corporation of China and Delcot Water Limited of Bangladesh.

The water-supply project is expected to be completed in four years, officials said.

Almost 87 percent of Bangladeshi households have access to various improved water sources, but only 10 percent of the nation’s 162 million people live with running water or modern plumbing, according to a press release from the World Bank in July.

The planned Purbachal township in Narayanganj and Gazipur districts, about 16 km (25 miles) from Dhaka, will include around 26,000 residential lots of different sizes and an international exhibition center, which is being built by another Chinese firm, officials said.

The Bangladeshi government has sold parcels of land at the township’s future site at attractive prices to members of various professional groups, according to one beneficiary who spoke to BenarNews.

China’s potential lead role in Dhaka’s new flagship project has attracted scrutiny amid Beijing’s move to expand its footprint in Bangladesh’s economy and energy sectors.

Ahsan Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, a private Bangladeshi think-tank, told BenarNews he was concerned about China’s “very low level of corporate ethics.”

“They provide kickbacks to get contracts corrupting the total system,” he said, referring to the Chinese government.

“China is an emerging economic and political superpower in the world. They are likely to emerge as the world’s No. 1 economy. We have to accept this reality,” he said. “So, as elsewhere in the world, we see an increasing influence of China in Bangladesh.”

‘Bangladesh needs China’

The Purbachal project is not part of the One Belt One Road infrastructure initiative, China’s massive plan to link Beijing with Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia by building the equivalent of a 21st-century Silk Road through networks of railways, bridges and ports.

Beijing outpaced the United States as Bangladesh’s top investor in 2018, during which Dhaka recorded $3.6 billion in foreign direct investments, according to official figures obtained by BenarNews.

China is also one of Bangladesh’s largest trading partners, with bilateral trade reaching about U.S. $12 billion annually, with the imbalance tilted heavily in Beijing’s favor.

“I think Bangladesh needs China for its development efforts,” Munshi Faiz Ahmad, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to China, told BenarNews. “This is because China has the experience of implementing different projects around the world.”

A Chinese-built solar power plant recently started supplying electricity to Bangladesh’s national grid, and the Beijing-based China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CMC) also began producing 500 megawatts of electricity across the nation.

Chinese construction companies, including the China Major Bridge Engineering Corporation, are building Bangladesh’s largest infrastructure project – the 6.1-km (3.8-mile) Padma Bridge, which would connect the capital Dhaka with 21 southwestern and south-central districts.

But that project appears to be behind schedule. Its official website said construction workers had completed 84 percent of the bridge, but company officials said the deadline had been extended to December 2019.

As construction companies failed to meet deadlines, the projected cost also went up from U.S. $2.4 billion to more than U.S. $3.6 billion by 2018.

“They offer a lower price to get a contract. Upon [signing of the agreement], they force the governments to increase the price of the project,” according to Mansur of the Policy Research Institute. “They stop working when the governments refuse to increase the funds.”

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