The shortage of container scanning machines at Chattogram Port is hampering the testing process of export-import goods.
Although the goods come and go through 12 gates of the port, at present there are only five permanent and two mobile scanners at six gates of the port. Five of these machines are 12 years' old.
Meanwhile, a vested quarter is doing frauds as export cargo containers are not being scanned. They are taking possession of incentive money given by the government without exporting products.
To encourage the export sector, the government is providing cash incentives in 37 sectors for various export products. Under agricultural products, there is a maximum of 20% incentive in the export of vegetables and fruits. The most fraudulent incidents are happening in cases of the export of such products, said sources concerned.
Chattogram Custom authorities have found evidence of fraud in two shipments of vegetables and food items of Unipex Trade Corporation Ltd, an exporter from Sylhet, and Bangla Food and Beverage Ltd, an exporter from Dhaka, during exports through the port in January this year.
Customs officials think Inland Container Depots (ICDs) are involved in these incidents. In this incident, Chattogram Customs called the leaders of Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA) to a meeting and served a warning on them.
Port users say the number of scanners is very few compared to the annual growth of import-export trade through Chattogram Port.
Taking advantage of the situation, the smuggling ring has been bringing in various banned products, including undeclared goods, drugs and cigarettes through the port.
In 2015, in the guise of edible oil import, liquid cocaine worth Tk3,000 crore was brought in. Imports of high duty goods have been taking place often with the announcement of an import of low duty goods. Traders have demanded a doubling of the number of scanners in Chattogram Port to prevent smuggling.
Mahbubul Alam, president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industries and Chattogram Port Users Forum, said the scope of import-export trade through the port was increasing every year. If the number of scanners in the port was increased, import and export trade would be further accelerated. Customs authorities said five new scanners would be installed, but only two were installed last year. "I think scanners should be installed at every gate of the port," he said.
Meanwhile, on 11 March, at a pre-budget discussion organised by Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Chattogram Port Member (Finance) Md Kamrul Amin said that four scanners would be installed for export containers. A new scanner needed to be installed for ISPS code compliance. Chairman of the National Board of Revenue Abu Hena Mohammad Rahmatul Munim was present as the chief guest at the meeting.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Chattogram Port Authority Md Omar Faruq has told The Business Standard that the task of installing scanners in the port is basically the responsibility of the customs authority. They can tell when the new scanners will be installed.
It is mandatory to install scanners at each gate of Chattogram Port to comply with the requirements of ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security) Code.
It is to be noted that in August 25, 2019, while inspecting the security aspects of the port, a delegation of the International Maritime Organisation issued instructions on installing scanners at every gate of the port.
According to Chattogram Customs House, at present there is one scanner at GCB (General Cargo Berth) at gate 1 of Chattogram Port, one at GCB gate-4, one at GCH gate-5, one at CCT (Chittagong Container Terminal) gate-2 and one at NCT (New Mooring Container Terminal) gate-3. There are also two mobile scanners at GCB gate-2 and CCT gate-2 which are capable of going to containers and scanning them.
On 4 March, 2020, two new scanners were installed at GCB gate-1 and NCT gate-3. The other five scanners are 12 years' old. Customs installed the container scanning machines in 2009 under the Chittagong Port Trade Facilitation (CPTF) project in order to prevent smuggling and comply with global policies.
Ruhul Amin Sikder, secretary general of BICDA, said 1800 containers of goods from 19 ICDs (Inland Container Depots) passed through the port every day for export. These export cargo containers were not scanned before shipping.
Asked how it was possible to check the goods with scanners at only six out of 12 gates of the port, an official of Chittagong Custom House said, "After checking the goods at the gates where there is a scanner, the vehicle carrying the container exits the port through another gate."
On condition of anonymity, several C&F agents said due to lack of scanners, traffic congestion of vehicles waiting for scanning was created every now and then at the port jetty. It was time consuming. Importers often faced financial losses due to the delay in the delivery of goods.
Chattogram Customs House Commissioner Mohammad Fakhrul Alam said more scanning machines were needed to expedite product testing. Initiatives had been taken to procure 14 new scanners by the National Board of Revenue. From there, allocation would be made as per requirement for Chattogram Port. ***