The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) says Chattogram Customs Bond Commissionerate officials are harassing garment industry owners in the export process by introducing various new rules.
A letter was issued to the bond commissioner on 18 February by then first vice-president of BGMEA, Mohammad Abdus Salam, saying that garment owners are being harassed in export procedures including the transfer of factory goods, approval of additional warehouses, and audit activities, according to BGMEA sources.
Syed Nazrul Islam, newly elected first vice-president of BGMEA, told The Business Standard (TBS) that although the BGMEA informed the bond commissioner about this in writing, no solution was forthcoming.
He added that garment industry owners have been struggling to keep business afloat for the last year amid the Covid-19 crisis. He said the crisis has been exacerbated by unwarranted harassment and if this continues, exports will be severely hampered, harming the national economy.
However, commissionerate authorities say that some companies, facing fines and penalties for resorting to irregularities, are making these baseless allegations of harassment.
The letter said that after receiving export orders, the garments industry sends exportable products to various washing and embroidery factories on inland, LC, or contract basis, for washing and embroidery as per the instructions of foreign buyers.
Nowadays, commissionerate officials are detaining exportable consignments on grounds of verifying various documents and are imposing high fines hastily. Shipments and exports are hence unable to meet stipulated delivery deadlines and are facing a crisis, which is by no means desirable in the present crisis.
It is alleged that since the new commissioner took over responsibility on 26 January, general bonds, garment and deemed export industries have been harassed by the introduction of various new rules, creating additional costs and complications for exporters.
One of the victims, a garment factory owner, told TBS on condition of anonymity that he had to relocate the factory from Chattogram to Dhaka to comply with the foreign buyers' alliance requirements. An application has been made to the Chattogram Custom Bond Commissionerate for approval but no decision has been taken in the last four months.
The above factory owner said, "On the other hand, I have to pay Tk20 lakh per month to rent a new factory in Ashulia, Dhaka. Although the previous commissioner approved the relocation of several factories from Chattogram to Dhaka, it is not clear why the current commissioner is not. I am suffering financially due to the commissionerate's unwarranted harassment in giving permission to move the factory.
According to the newly elected board of the BGMEA Chattogram Region, delays and complexities in the performance of bond commissionerate officials have created extreme uncertainty in the garment industry of Chattogram.
An official of the BGMEA Chattogram region said that the weight of import and export consignments is being verified along with documentary verification for the approval of annual audit activities of the garment industry.
Besides, there are delays in re-checking data at different stages. As a result, the institutions concerned are losing interest in conducting audits.
Earlier, a maximum of Tk80,000 or Tk90,000 was spent on approval of audit activities, but now it has been increased to Tk2-3 lakh. Under these circumstances, garments industry owners end up having to pay large bribes to senior officials.
According to BGMEA sources, export orders worth about $4 billion have been cancelled and suspended under these circumstances. In Chattogram, the amount is about $1 billion. Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 crisis, 281 garment factories in Dhaka and 30 in Chattogram have been shut down so far.
The Customs Bond Commissionerate, Chattogram, can play an important role in increasing exports by providing quick approval through facilitation of bond related activities to overcome the current crisis in the garment industry.
Mahbubur Rahman, commissioner of the Customs Bond Commissionerate, Chattogram, said there was no room for complaining. Any specific allegations of harassment of garments industry owners must be addressed.
Regarding the harassment of moving factories from Chattogram, Mahbubur Rahman said that a former commissioner had given permission to shift factories from Chattogram to Dhaka but in this case, there are some legal obligations. Some organisations that face fines for resorting to irregularities may file complaints of harassment.