Members of the parliamentary standing committee on shipping ministry yesterday criticised Shajahan Khan for his ministry's “inaction” in reducing container congestion at the Chittagong port.
The seaport handles about 90 percent of the country's export-import trade. But unfortunately, vessels need to wait there for days to offload goods due to a shortage of jetties.
During a committee meeting at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, the members blamed the shipping ministry for not taking proper steps to build new jetties at the port in the last seven years.
In reply, Shajahan, also a member of the committee, hit back at the parliamentary watchdog, saying it “created obstacles” for his ministry to do its job, including purchase of equipment.
At one point, Maj Gen (retd) Rafiqul Islam, head of the JS body, and the minister had a slight altercation, said a meeting participant, wishing not to be named.
Later, Rafiqul rejected the allegation brought by Shajahan, saying the responsibility of the committee was to oversee the ministry's performance, not to interfere in its work.
Chittagong Port Authority Chairman Rear Admiral M Khaled Iqbal assured the committee that they had already taken several “significant” measures to reduce the congestion. He hoped that the situation would improve soon.
In reply, committee members said they were not satisfied with the CPA's role in this regard.
Both the bulk carriers and container vessels are now facing long delays as the country's premier port has been experiencing vessel congestion for more than two months.
On average, the bulk vessels have to wait in the sea for 20 days or more while the container vessels' waiting time reached nearly six to 12 days due to non availability of jetties at the port.
Till yesterday, 11 bulk vessels and 10 container vessels were waiting at the outer anchorage for getting berth in jetty.
Importers said a huge amount of money was going out of the country as they were paying extra for importing goods following increased freight charges by shipping companies.
In the last meeting of the JS body on May 25, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association Director Munir Hossain expressed concern over the delay in getting berth.
He also expressed serious concern over the delay in loading and offloading of containers, forcing vessels to change their schedules.
“We need to change schedule of everything. We are missing schedule of mother vessels. Buyers are expressing their concern and disappointment over the issue,” he said, according to the working paper of the last meeting.
He also said the government should communicate with buyers to tell them not to worry.
A member of the committee, wishing anonymity, said the JS body had earlier recommended several times taking measures to build new jetty at the port. “But the authorities concerned did not pay any heed to our recommendations.”
“If we come up with suggestions, the ministry, in most of the cases, take them as interferences. This is really unfortunate,” he said. “The minister wants to do everything at will. But the job of the committee is to oversee whether the minister and his ministry are working properly.”