The chemical laboratory of Chattogram Customs House, the largest customs station in the country, is running with 33% manpower, causing sufferings to importers.
Normally, reports of the sample tests of different products, which are imported from different countries, are supposed to be delivered within one to two days. But now it takes 10 to 15 days to get the reports.
Therefore, the importers are not only facing problems in unloading the goods but are also incurring substantial financial losses.
According to Chattogram port sources, the importers can keep the containers of imported goods in the port yard for four days without paying any charge.
After that, for a 20-foot-long container, the charge for the first week is $6 per day. For the following week, importers have to pay $12 per day and $24 per day for the week after that.
The imported perishable goods also rot in the port yard due to the delay in getting the test reports.
The country's 92% of imports and exports are done through Chattogram port. If there is any doubt about the imported goods, the customs sends a sample of the consignment to the chemical lab for testing.
With the limited manpower, lab officials have to work hard to test about 200 samples every day.
There are only five people working in the lab against 15 positions. Of the remaining 10, two chemical examiner positions and that of three deputy chief chemical examiner are vacant. Besides, there are five vacancies against six assistant chemical examiner positions.
Md Abdul Hannan, chief examiner of the customs chemical lab, said, "About 200 samples of various products, including 100 of different fruits, arrive in the lab every day. Although the fruit test results can be delivered on the day of getting the samples, 60% of reports of other products cannot be released."
Importer Md Nazim Uddin, proprietor of Al Medina Trading, said, "Imported goods are often stuck at the port due to the delay in getting the test reports. As a result, we have to pay extra charges for keeping the containers in the port yard. Besides, sometimes the imported goods rot due to the delay."
In addition, the importers have to incur losses when the prices of the products go down due to not being able to unload the goods on time.
Kazi Mahmud Imam Billu, joint secretary of the Chattogram C&F Agents Association, told The Business Standard they have to wait 10 to 15 days to get the chemical lab reports.
"The traders are facing financial losses as they do not get lab reports on time. I have met the customs commissioner several times to discuss the issues but got no results," he said.
According to Chattogram Customs House sources, on average, about 30% of the samples that come to the lab for testing are detected as undeclared products.
Increasing the manpower in the laboratory and installing modern equipment will increase the rate of detection of false declarations, officials said.
Mohammad Fakhrul Alam, commissioner of Chattogram Customs House, said the tests are delayed due to the manpower crisis.
He has written to the chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) about increasing the manpower in the lab.
In the letter dated 11 October last year, it was mentioned that chemical tests of a large number of products were being disrupted as there were only two people for conducting the tests.
It was also mentioned in the letter that two examiners were nearing retirement.
However, the NBR has not responded to the letter as yet.