By Shafiq Alam/AFP
Bangladesh’s military-backed government is expected to decide within a month on Indian conglomerate Tata’s three-billion-dollar investment plan, a top investment official said Saturday.
The announcement came after the Indian salt-to-telecoms giant warned it might shelve plans to set up a 2.4-million-tonne steel plant, two power plants, a coal mine and a fertiliser plant unless a decision was made quickly.Tata’s proposal would be the biggest single foreign investment in Bangladesh.
“I’ve talked to all cabinet members including the head of the government (Fakhruddin Ahmed) about the proposal and everyone agreed a decision on Tata should be made quickly,” said Nazrul Islam, head of the government’s Board of Investment.
Bangladesh has been under emergency rule since 11 January, when the president, Iajuddin Ahmed, cancelled elections amid allegations of poll rigging and installed a military-backed administration.
“We’ll send all reports on the projects to the head of the government within a few days and expect a decision on the proposal within the next month,” Islam said.
“It’s the biggest investment proposal we have and it has been with us for about two years. So we must make a decision on its fate very quickly.”
The government has promised to “take up all necessary projects” to promote long-term economic growth and has vowed to clean up corruption before restoring democracy and holding “credible” elections before the end of 2008.The previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party government had promised a decision on the Tata project by last June.
But after two years of negotiations, it halted the deal, saying political sensitivities just ahead of the polls would make it difficult for the government to make a decision.It said the new government would decide on the matter after the next parliamentary elections.
Anti-Indian sentiment is rampant among Bangladeshi voters as many believe India seeks to bully its smaller neighbour and political leaders traditionally fear being seen courting the growing economic powerhouse.
The Tata Group said last month it was keen to invest in Bangladesh, saying the country had immense potential, but that it could not wait “indefinitely.”The conglomerate, which acquired Anglo-Dutch steel company Corus Group in a 13.7-billion-dollar deal in March, said it is constantly scouting for investment opportunities across the globe.
“We cannot wait indefinitely,” Tata representative in Bangladesh Syed Manzer Hossain said last month.“We are waiting for an invitation from the government so that we can resume negotiations on the project very soon,” he said.
The Board of Investment head said the country could not move ahead economically without deciding the fate of the Tata proposal.
“Everywhere we go for investment promotion, people now refer to Tata’s projects and ask: ‘What’s happened to that?´ There are some other big investment proposals. But we can’t go ahead without deciding on Tata first,” Islam said.