The decision to conduct a new feasibility study on Chattogram's Bay Terminal, and its implementation under a public-private partnership instead of with government funding, has been blamed for the delay in the project's implementation.
Chattogram port officials said the terminal of Chattogram port's mega project would have been visible by now had the project been implemented with government funds.
As per the primary feasibility study, the project was supposed to be implemented with government funds by 2021.
The study was jointly conducted by German-based Shell horn and HPC Hamburg Port Consulting and KS Consultants Ltd of Bangladesh at a cost of Tk6.5 crore in 2016.
Later, the government back-tracked from the decision to fund the project and decided to implement it under a PPP scheme.
The government undertook the project in 2014 but it is confined to paperwork only, port sources said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the project in November 2018. Though 16 months have passed, the time to start constructing it has yet to be finalised.
The delay in implementation has frustrated businessmen who have waited for the project as a solution to their container-related problems.
Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Mahbubul Alam said, "We want a deadline for the terminal's construction. Discussions about the project have been going on for years and years but no outcome is visible."
Akhter Kabir Chowdhury, president of Socheton Nagorik Committee's Chattogram chapter, questioned the necessity of conducting another feasibility study at a cost of Tk20 crore.
He suspects government funds are being misappropriated by involving foreign investors in the project.
Chattogram port Executive Engineer Rafiul Alam, the key official of the project, said the government had decided to conduct a detailed feasibility study at a cost of Tk20 crore.
"Starting in June this year, it will end in March 2021," he said.
Alam said 21 global organisations have expressed their interest in conducting the study and one of them will be selected.
He also said the project cost might increase after the detailed study.
"In the previous study, the cost was estimated at $2 billion," added Alam.
Port sources said the project had slowed due to additional complexities. For example, the Chattogram Development Authority took 18 months to issue the no-objection certificate and the Department of Environment also took more time to provide the certificate.
Moreover, land acquisition consumed two years – but all those problems are now over.
The terminal will be set up six kilometres from the port. Its capabilities will be six times higher than that of the port.
Ships carrying 5,000 containers will be able to be berthed at the terminal once the project is implemented. Anchoring vessels will no longer need to depend on high tide then, said project officials.
Chattogram port Secretary Omar Faruk said the process of conducting a new feasibility study is underway and that might delay the project's implementation.
"However, there is no uncertainty over the project," he added.
The Chattogram Port Strategic Master Plan is projected to handle 2.4 million, 2.7 million, 4.4 million and 5.1 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) containers for the year 2016, 2020, 2025 and 2030, respectively.
However, the port already handled three million TEU containers last year though it was supposed to handle 2.7 million in 2020.
As per the master plan, the average stay of cargo ships at the port is increasing because more containers are entering than the port's capacity. As a result, the cost of business is increasing – so the government decided to construct the bay terminal to solve this problem.
The terminal will be built on around 2,500 acres of land. Of this, 871 acres are private and government land. The remaining 1,600 acres are of reclaimed land.