Most officials at Customs House Chattogram are not only performing their designated duties but also filling in for vacant posts for an acute shortage of workforce.
This in turn is inevitably hampering the supervision of tax evaluation and monitoring of goods meant for import and export while exporters and importers are suffering for the resulting delays in the shipment of goods.
According to customs sources, 651 people are working at the customs house against 1,248 posts.
There are 126 first class officers against 210 posts, 277 second class officers against 497 posts, 152 grade three employees against 423 posts, and 103 grade four employees against 118 posts.
Twenty-seven assistant commissioners and deputy commissioners, responsible for evaluating taxes of imported goods apart from monitoring export and import consignments, are working against 63 posts.
One official is even overseeing six sections and sub-teams. Assistant Commissioner Mahbubur Rahman is assigned to six sections, namely the assessment section-4 and those on prevention, administration, law, licencing and anti-money laundering.
Fatema Khairun Nur, a deputy commissioner, is assigned to a number of sections and has to discharge duties at five private inland container depots (ICDs).
Asma Akter, also an assistant commissioner, has been assigned to five sections, including audit and sample, while Assistant Commissioner Forhad Abbas Khan to five private ICDs.
“Regular supervision of import-export goods is being hampered because of the workforce shortage,” said Kazi Mustafizur Rahman, commissioner of Customs House Chattogram.
He said almost all officers have to perform additional duties and sometimes they can not scrutinise invoice documents and test products properly.
“If we get an adequate workforce, we will be able to put extra focus on the consignments of goods of importers and clearing and forwarding agents, who were earlier found trying to evade tax,” he said.
In the last five years, the import-export of Bangladesh has nearly doubled but the size of the workforce has remained less than half of that required.
The situation has worsened since July 2017 when the government ordered to keep customs activities open round the clock all the while with no additional workforce being appointed, sources said.
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce & Industry (CCCI), said businesspeople have to bear the extra expenses incurred for delays in the delivery of goods.
“We wrote to the National Board of Revenue and other departments concerned several times requesting them to increase the number of officials at the customs house but to no avail,” he said.
Sources said 269 assistant revenue officers, who play the most important role of assessment and examination of imported goods, are working against 487 posts.
An assistant revenue officer of the unstuffing section says it takes 30 minutes to two hours to go through and check a container. He has to examine 90 containers a day.
“If I spend a minimum 30 minutes to check a container, it will take at least 45 hours. So, sometimes I sign the documents without examining them properly,” he said.
As a result, dishonest importers and clearing and forwarding agents may take advantage of the situation and dodge paying taxes, he said.
At a pre-budget discussion with the CCCI on April 4, Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, chairman of the NBR, said the workforce shortage would be resolved at the start of next fiscal year.