Setting up a deep-sea port appears a far cry as the government has taken two and a half years to draft a law only, let alone approving designs and finding investor for the Tk 40,000-crore project.
The cabinet in a meeting yesterday accepted in principle the draft of Sonadia Deep-Sea Port Authority Act 2011.
The draft has to be vetted by the law ministry and then approved by the cabinet before it is placed in parliament.
Inefficiency of the shipping ministry and red-tapism are responsible for the long delay in framing a law, the first step to build the port in Sonadia Island in the Bay, experts say.
The government has aimed to begin the port construction towards the end of 2011.
Experts say it may take three to four years more to start the work, if Bangladesh can lure investors after laying the groundwork by digging channel, constructing road and rail links and commissioning a 100MW power plant.
The only progress made so far has been the formation of a cell in August 2010 for quick execution of the port related decisions.
“There's still a long way to go,” said head of the cell, Captain Shafiqullah, terming the draft a major leap-forward.
“Formation of a deep-sea port authority, appointment of a design consultant and negotiation with the interested investors will get momentum once the draft is signed into a law,” he told The Daily Star.
Earlier, a Japanese firm conducted Techno-Economic Feasibility Study on the proposed port at a cost Tk 14 crore. The study, submitted to the shipping ministry in July 2009, recommended forming a deep-sea port authority and passing the Deep-Sea Port Act immediately.
The study outlined a three-phase construction plan and assessed a huge financial potential. It also mentioned how the port can be built under public-private partnership.
The first phase was supposed to start at the end 2011 and complete by 2015 at a cost of Tk 13,000 crore. As per the study, the port can go into operation in 2016 if the suggested work is done in time.
The second phase should be completed in 2035 at a cost of Tk 26,000 crore. The country would get a full-fledged international port with completion of the final phase by 2055 spending Tk 1,100 crore.
The major challenge for the government is updating the feasibility study. Many data might become outdated as the government is failing to act promptly.
“Everything is outlined in the study, but the progress is very disappointing,” said KM Ahmed, who was involved with the study.
He said the port will have a huge positive impact on economy since the study estimated about two percent GDP growth following the construction.
The port will generate massive employment, boost export and import and massively increase the country's capacity to handle cargos.
There is no alternative to a deep-sea port as capacity of the Chittagong Port will be totally exhausted by 2015. Bangladesh will face serious problem without a deep-sea port once transit is allowed to India, Nepal and Bhutan, said experts.
Bangladesh has sought assistance from various donors, including Japan and China, for the project.
A Japanese team visiting Bangladesh recently offered to be a co-financer. The government is not interested about the proposal as it is looking for a single financer.
Also, a Chinese delegation came here in May last year as China is keen to invest.
Briefing journalists after the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister's Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad said large ships 188 metres in length or more cannot anchor in the Chittagong Port due to shallow navigability of the channel and the turn of the Karnaphuli River.
He said the ships anchor near Kutubdia and Moheshkhali anchorages, shooting up the cost of loading and unloading of cargos.
“The government decided to construct a deep-sea port considering the situation,” he added.