Scanning at Ctg Port: Govt settles for costlier option

Private firm gets Tk 29cr a year for the job Custom House can do with Tk 4cr
An articulated lorry goes through a mobile scanner in Chittagong port. Photo: Collected

Scanning operation is a sensitive job for any port around the world. It examines imports through misdeclaration and the presence of explosives that could jeopardize national security. Once released, there is little scope for reexamining the containers.

Yet the Chittagong Custom House (CCH) is relying on private operators for the delicate job as it failed to establish a permanent scanning department of its own to do this.

While the government is losing money in the process, it also poses a threat to national security, port sources have said. 

In 2009, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) made scanning of all containers mandatory to check imports through misdeclaration and smuggling of arms and ammunition.

As the CCH had no experience in scanning then, it hired SGS, a Swiss private company, for the job in September that year for Tk 12.23 crore a year. One condition was that during the six-year contract the company would train CCH officials on scanner operations.

The operator had a 63-man workforce for handling four scanners at as many gates at the port.

However, by the time the contract ended in 2015, many of the trained CCH officials got transferred. As a result, the CCH failed to build capacity to handle the scanners.

Later, the CCH extended the contract with SGS for three years in two phases, which ended on April 22 with the same results.    

The CCH has recently given the job to a new firm, Five R Associates, for Tk 28.86 crore a year. A local distributor of a Chinese company, Five R Associates is expected to start the operations today.

Interestingly, in a draft proposal the CCH said the same job can be done with only about Tk 4 crore, nearly Tk 25 crore less than what the private company is charging.

For that, the CCH proposed establishing a permanent scanning department with a 185-strong workforce and setting up 12 scanners at as many gates at the port.

At the moment, there are only four scanners at as many gates.

The CCH sent the proposal to the Internal Resource Department under the finance ministry on January 2 last year, but has yet to receive any response.

In the meantime, as the deadline of the contract with the SGS neared, the CCH floated a tender for the scanning operation in late December.

At least seven companies collected the tender papers. They are SGS, M/S Belal and Brothers, Harun Electrical Engineering, Linkers Enterprise, Five R Associates, NCSL and 5R Nuctech Consortium.

However, only two firms -- Five R Associates and NCSL -- submitted the tender papers.

The SGS did not submit the papers, alleging that the CCH relaxed some conditions of the bid to make it easy for certain companies to get the job.

On April 12, three days after the CCH recommended Five R Associates to the NBR for the job, the SGS moved the High Court over “irregularities in appointing an organisation of their choice”.

In response, the CCH filed a writ on April 25 saying the claim was baseless. The HC is expected to hold a hearing on the matter on May 25.

The SGS also lodged a complaint with the Planning Commission. But the Commission cleared the CCH move to hire Five R Associates for the job.

Contacted, Mizanur Rahman, SGS operations manager, said they would not pursue the matter further.

“We have no complaints. We've knocked on so many doors. And we know we will not get justice,” he told The Daily Star.

“Nine years ago, the Chittagong Custom House did not do the job as it had no experience. After all these years, they are now saying there is no need for experience to do the job. If so, the Custom House could do the job nine years ago, or it can do it now. Why are they relying on others for the scanning?” he said.

Meanwhile, after the SGS's contract ended on April 22, the CCH itself did the scanning job for the last one week. 

“Workers from other departments were called in for the scanning operation. We did not face any problem,” said Abdul Rashid, deputy commissioner of the CCH.

Liakat Ali Howladar, port secretary of Clearing and Forwarding Association, said it was not safe to get the scanning job done by a private operator.

According to him, the job should be done by a government authority.

Asked why the CCH itself was not doing the job, its Commissioner AKM Nuruzzaman said they sent a draft proposal to the IRD for establishing a scanning department two years ago, but did not get any response.

“It's not possible to do the job with our current workforce. We cannot do it if we do not have a permanent, dedicated staff for it. We have talked about the issue with the authorities so we can do it by ourselves in future,” he added.


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