The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) is responsible for checking the quality of imported tiles, and by regulation, the government agency is required to issue the final certificate for a shipment within 60 days of application.
But in reality, the agency is drawing out the process for more than ten to twelve months. This has allowed local importers to market and distribute more than 1,000 shipments of imported tiles without BSTI's final approval between July 2019 and January 2021, sources said.
Untested tiles are causing financial losses to consumers because sub-par tiles used in construction projects are not as durable as the quality ones, said experts, while blaming the BSTI's inefficiency for the issue.
The agency issues temporary certificates to companies within four days of import, which allows importers to take delivery of goods under a temporary tax assessment. The BSTI also collects samples from shipments at this stage for testing the quality of the product.
Despite the delay in the testing process, importers managed to flood the market with untested tiles because a court order issued in 2010 gives them the liberty to sell their products if BSTI fails to complete the examination process within 60 days.
New Madina Trade Centre – a company operating in Dhaka – is one such example. The company imported 1,800 square metres of tiles from India in October 2019, and began marketing the product after securing a temporary certificate from the BSTI.
Despite having a deadline of 60 days, the BSTI took nearly ten months to issue the final report on those tiles. The agency, on 29 July last year, termed the shipment as of sub-par quality and revoked the temporary certificate issued in 2019.
But it was too late to recall or destroy the tiles, as shipment had already been made to consumers. Many such companies across the country have done exactly the same, turning consumers into the real victims of this debacle.
Commenting on the matter, Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB) Vice-President SM Nazer Hossain said, "Importers marketing the tiles without BSTI's approval is a matter of serious concern.
"The use of sub-par quality tiles is putting infrastructure development in Bangladesh at risk. I believe that the importers and the BSTI are collaborating with each other to perpetuate this malpractice."
Chattogram Customs House data show that 1,437 shipments of tiles entered Bangladesh through Chattogram port from July 2019 to December 2020. These tiles have a taxable price of around Tk344.45 crore.
China is the number one tile exporter to Bangladesh, while the product is also imported from Colombia, Spain, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, the US and Turkey.
According to the BSTI office in Chattogram, the agency issued temporary certificates against 1,571 imported tiles' samples from July 2019 to January 2021, but managed to issue final certificates against just 516 samples during this period.
Importers are required to submit an undertaking to the customs house before receiving their shipment. The companies in their undertakings mention that if their imported product fails the BSTI's quality testing, they will destroy the entire shipment in the presence of a BSTI representative.
The BSTI also imposes rules on importers before giving them temporary certificates. The agency can take legal action against the companies if they sell imported tiles that fail to meet the BDS ISO 13006:2015 standard.
Responding to a query, Bangladesh Tiles Dealers and Importers Association General Secretary Golam Rasul Belal said, "There is no logical reason behind the BSTI's inability to issue final certificates within 60 days. The only reason behind this issue is the BSTI authorities' inefficiency.
"The agency is complicating matters to harass importers. We have approached the BSTI on multiple occasions to resolve the matter, but they are yet to respond to our demand."
Commenting on the matter, Deputy Director of BSTI Dhaka headquarters' Certification Marks Wing Md Golam Baki said, "The allegation of deliberately delaying the certificates to harass the importers is untrue. The delay seen throughout the last year was caused by broken equipment."
Md Mostaq Ahmed, assistant director of BSTI Chattogram Divisional Office's Certification Marks Wing, told The Business Standard, "BSTI conducts thirteen tests on tiles – including their quality, strength, length, width, thickness and water absorption capacity.
"The BSTI used to conduct 11 of the tests in Chattogram and two in Dhaka. From January 2021, all the tests are being conducted in Chattogram. The final certificate is issued once BSTI has all the test results. Some importers are not paying the testing fee on time, and this is causing the delay in issuing reports."
Meanwhile, New Madina Trade Centre owner Tariqul Islam said, "I sold the tiles because the BSTI did not provide me with the final certificate within 60 days of application. After nine months and twenty-five days, the agency said the product is of sub-par quality.
"The customs authority has called me to a hearing over allegations that I have imported sub-par quality goods. The issue was caused by the BSTI's inefficiency. I have asked the customs authority to exempt me from all liabilities regarding this matter."
Moreover, customs law dictates that a final tax assessment on imports must be carried out within 120 days of the temporary tax assessment. But the delay in BSTI's delays are disrupting the tax assessment process too, as BSTI's final certificate is required for the procedure.
Providing more details, Chattogram Customs House Assistant Commissioner Aminul Islam said, "We are unable to complete the final taxation process because the BSTI cannot issue final certificates within deadlines.
"For this reason, the customs authority is calling hearings for nearly every shipment of tiles. We are facing severe difficulties over the situation, as more than 1,000 files are now stuck in limbo."
He added that the customs authority plans to seek a directive from the National Board of Revenue over the matter.