'Pleasure' trip or what?
Just two weeks before going back to the navy, the Chittagong Port Authority chairman went on an eight-day official visit to South Africa and Morocco apparently to gather knowledge on how to improve the port's operation.
Questions have been raised over the trip as CPA Chairman Rear Admiral M Khaled Iqbal will have only six days, upon his return, to implement the things learnt in the overseas visit.
A number of officials at the Chittagong port have cast doubts about the outcome of the trip, saying nothing much could be learnt from visits to the South African and Moroccan ports since those are not as developed as the European and US ports.
A delegation that includes Khaled is on a visit to the Port of Cape Town in South Africa and the Port of Tanger-Med in Morocco from January 16 to 23. Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan is heading the team.
In a letter to the CPA on December 24 last year, the shipping ministry also included Shajahan's son, an Awami League MP's son, and the CPA chief medical officer in the 15-member team.
Their inclusion in the team surprised many of the port officials, who say the sons of the minister and the lawmaker, and the medical officer have nothing to do with the port's development work.
Besides, five members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Shipping Ministry, which oversees the port's operation, were included in the team, raising questions about conflict of interest.
Members of a parliamentary standing committee cannot go on any foreign trip whose expenses are borne by an organisation the House body oversees, according to parliamentary affairs experts.
The CPA is bearing the costs of the ongoing visit, and it has already released Tk 95 lakh for the purpose. The total expenses will be tallied after the delegation returns.
On January 30, Khaled will hand over the responsibility to the new CPA chairman and go back to the navy, sources said.
Earlier on January 2, the public administration ministry appointed CPA member (engineer) Commodore Zulfikar Aziz as the new chairman.
Despite repeated attempts, Khaled could not be reached for comments.
Two of the delegation members opted out of the trip. They are Maj (retd) Rafiqul Islam, chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Shipping Ministry, and Kallal Kumar Chakraborty, a deputy secretary.
Contacted, Rafiqul said he is in favour of visiting developed seaports to get firsthand experience of how those work.
“If we visit ports of world standards in Europe or even in Asia, we will be able to utilise the experience for developing our seaports.”
Asked why he didn't join the trip, the AL lawmaker avoided giving a reply.
Sources close to Rafiqul, however, said that he considered the visit unnecessary, as the ports to be visited by the team are not that developed.
At a recent meeting of the parliamentary body, Rafiqul expressed resentment that some persons, who are not related to the port's operation, were included in the delegation, according to sources.
Talking to this correspondent, former member of the CPA Board Hadi Hossain Babul said Khaled's visit to the African ports would be of no use, rather it would be sightseeing, as he will soon hand over his responsibility to a new CPA chairman.
He also said only those directly involved in the port's operation should have been included in the team.
Hadi pointed out that private operators should be engaged in providing services, such as operating the terminals, for upgrading the port's capacity and efficiency.
“Southeast Asian and European ports are engaging globally renowned private operators on a large scale in such jobs. We should gather knowledge on those ports,” Hadi said while explaining why the visit to the two African ports would not be so fruitful.
The ex-CPA Board member, however, said the African ports also engage private operators but on a small scale.
In terms of annual handling of containers, Chittagong port secured the 71st position among the top 100 container ports in the world, according to the 2017 ranking of Lloyd's List, the world's oldest journal on port and shipping.
The Chittagong port handled around 25 lakh TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) containers last year.
The Port of Cape Town couldn't make it to the list while the Port of Tanger-Med, which handled 29 lakh TEU containers in 2016, ranked 51st.
The Port of Cape Town handled nine lakh TEU containers in fiscal 2013-2014. Chittagong port handled 17.31 lakh TEU containers in 2014.
The delegation visiting the two African ports includes Md Abdus Sattar, deputy secretary at the shipping ministry; Mohammad Jahangir Alam Khan, senior information and public relations officer at the ministry; MM Tarikul Islam, private secretary to the shipping minister; Md Omar Faruk, secretary of the CPA; Mosharraf Hossain, chief medical officer of the CPA; Commodore M Jahangir Alam, chairman of Payra Port Authority; and Md Solaiman Alam Seth, honorary consul of South Africa.
Parliamentary body members Talukdar Abdul Khalek, Nurul Islam Sujan, Habibar Rahman and Momotaj Begum are also in the team.
Shajahan's son Ashibur Rahman, Momotaj's son Abdullah Al Jubayer, and Md Solaiman are supposed to bear their expenses for the trip, sources said.
The delegation will have to submit a report to the shipping ministry within 15 days of its return.