Uncertainty looms on full-fledged operations of New Mooring Container Terminal of Chittagong Port, as fresh dispute arises over how the terminal will be operated.
The one-kilometre-long terminal, constructed by the port at Tk 566 crore, cannot go into operations due to failure in appointing an operator even after seven years of its construction in 2007.
Two of the five berths of the terminal, however, have been operated by a local firm since 2007, though there is allegation that the appointment of the firm during the last caretaker government was made violating rules.
It is also alleged that a plot is underway to appoint the same firm as the private operator of the terminal.
In a fresh move, workers of the port have started organising under the control of a ruling party leader, ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, who opposes leasing out the terminal to the private sector for a long term.
The port users now fear instability at the port, which saw no worker unrest since 2010.
THE NEW DISPUTE
Now two groups emerge with reverse opinions. A section wants the port to purchase all equipment for the terminal from its own fund and then a private operator would be appointed for a short period to run it.
The private berth operators who are currently operating six general berths of the port, Awami League leader Mohiuddin, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal leader and lawmaker Mainuddin Khan Badal are on this side.
Sources said the Prime Minister's Office also backed this method. And accordingly the CPA earlier this year initiated bids to purchase equipment involving around Tk 1,120 crore from its own fund. On May 14, the CPA also floated a tender for purchasing six gantry cranes for the terminal.
Fazle Ekram Chowdhury, proprietor of Fazlisons Ltd that now operates a berth of the port, said the existing 12 berths of the port are run by private operators who are appointed through bidding.
But another section opposes procurement by the CPA, saying a private operator should purchase the equipment and run the terminal for long term.
The parliamentary standing committee on the shipping ministry and leaders of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry are also of this opinion.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith in a letter sent to the CPA in May opposed any procurement by the port authorities. The CPA last month cancelled the bidding for purchasing the gantry cranes.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan in a meeting here on July 16 said they would take a decision later after discussion with all the parties.
Workers from different trade unions active in the port are being mobilised for the last one month to start a movement against any bid to allow the private sector to operate the terminal.
AL leader Mohiuddin held several meetings with the worker leaders in the last few weeks.