Tuhin Alam, driver for a ride-sharing service, has been waiting for a smart driving licence card for eight months.
"As I passed the licence test, I went to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) office to get my card. But I was given a fresh date every time I went there. The authorities, however, gave me an alternative licence paper for driving a bike."
Six lakh eligible applicants like Tuhin do not know how much time the BRTA will take to issue them smart driving cards. Meanwhile, many others have been waiting for licence renewal for months.
Each day hundreds of people come to the BRTA office at Mirpur in the capital. The picture is the same in other 57 of its regional offices across the country, an official said.
BRTA Director (Operation) Shitangshu Shekhor Biswas said, "To solve the smart licence backlog, we signed a deal with Tiger IT in 2016 to produce 15 lakh cards within 2022."
However, due to a big rise in demand, 14 million-plus cards had to be printed by 2018. "We planned to have another deal with Tiger IT, but the company became blacklisted with the World Bank by then," said Shitangshu.
The BRTA is now issuing a limited number of smart licences after evaluating applicants' urgency, a BRTA official said, adding the number is not more than a hundred on average per month.
Also, practical driving tests for all vehicles remained halted for months.
However, BRTA Director Sheikh Muhammad Mahbub-e-Rabbani said the tests were suspended due to Covid-19, but resumed on August 23.
The smart driving card has been an issue for around one and a half years due to tender complexities, according to the BRTA insiders.
On June 10, 2019, the BRTA called for the tender of smart licence cards for the first time.
And the same notice was revised four times – on July 21, July 28, August 8 and August 28 of 2019.
Next, the BRTA cancelled the notice and again invited a tender on January 20, 2020.
Shitangshu said French company SELP became the lowest bidder in the first tender. Then another bidder Madras Security Printers (MSP) pointed out some deviances in SELP's application. So, the first tender was cancelled.
Then MSP became the lowest bidder in the new tender and got the work order. And a contract was signed with the firm on July 29, 2020, added Shitangshu, a member of the technical evaluation committee on the tender.
"As per the contract, MSP will send the first consignment of 20,000 cards in next three months and they will supply a total of 40 lakh cards in next five years," he added.
However, the Indian company MSP is allegedly involved with many scams at home and abroad.
Asked how such a company got the work order, Shitangshu said, "We were not aware of the allegations against MSP while evaluating its proposal."
MSP provided fake security stickers to Kenya in 2018, committed the same offence in 2017 in Sri Lanka, and got blacklisted in India on a charge of leaking government's confidential documents in the same year, and an inspection report found financial irregularities of the company in 2019.
Also, there was an allegation against the BRTA of creating issues around the tender to give work order to MSP.
However, MSP and BRTA Chairman Nur Mohammad Mazumder could not be reached for comments, despite repeated attempts, till the filing of this report.
BRTA Spokesperson Sheikh Muhammad Mahbub-e-Rabbani said, "We think the crisis of smart driving licence cards will be resolved by December this year."