An international tender will be called for privatising Chittagong Port operation, businesses were told Saturday as they made such suggestion and placed plans for upgrading the country's prime seaport.
The business-community seniors said Bangladesh is lagging behind in terms of the cost of doing business. The country will never be able to fulfill the target of $50 billion export by 2021 unless the port is developed apace with other competitor countries.
They also said there must be coordinated efforts by all stakeholders for the functioning of Chittagong port efficiently as port alone cannot function on its own.
"The operational part of Chittagong should be handed over to private sector for efficient operation. Private sectors run many prominent ports across the world," said Mahbubur Rahman, President of the International Chamber of Commerce, Bangladesh (ICCB), at a roundtable.
Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) organised the discussion titled 'Chittagong Port: Current Status and Way Forward' in a city hotel.
The ICC,B President, Mr Mahbubur Rahman, said targets of middle-income country and $50 billion export by 2021 should not be a mere political slogan, the government must do whatever need to do to get to the goals.
He feels the premier seaport of the country would never be able deliver what businesses want if the government and the businesses do not find alternatives, including development of other seaports, using waterways for goods transporting.
Chairman of the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) Rear Admiral M Khaled Iqbal spoke at the programme as chief guest while DCCI president Abul Kasem Khan delivered the welcome address and Director Asif A Chowdhury presented a keynote.
Renowned business leaders, exporters and importers, representatives of shipping agents, C&F, Bangladesh Bank and the National Board of Revenue (NBR) also joined the event.
The DCCI president said increasing cost of freight, incoming vessel-waiting-time delay for four days, extended unloading and loading time up to 12 days, inefficiencies in transportation and handling containers are the key impediments which reduce the port competitiveness.
Mr Khan proposed expediting the development of planned container jetties, Potenga Port and Bay Terminal for smooth loading-unloading operations.
In his keynote presentation, Director of DCCI Asif A Chowdhury said turnaround time in Chittagong port reached 5-7 days whereas it is 1.38 days in Singapore port, 0.96 days in Shanghai port, 0.68 days in Busan port in South Korea, 4.18 days in Kolkata port and 1.7 days in Colombo port in Sri Lanka.
He identified key problems facing Chittagong port, including mismatch between handling capacity and growing demand, customs-related clearance complexities, lack of contingency plan for rush season like festive time and monsoon, poor road connectivity, time gap between shifting break (labour/equipment operator), forced sailing , importers' delay in emptying the containers, limited night sailing, lack of coordination among port-service-providing agencies.
He said the impediments and congestion in the Chittagong Port cause disruption to supply chains, leading to rise in consumer goods prices for which suffers entire economy: it increases lead time, fuels the cost of doing business, hampers cross-border trade and inflow of investment, spurs food and non -food inflation.
He stressed the need for implementing some short-term plans including proper implementation of terminal management with smooth entry and exit, full-time traffic-free road connectivity between on-dock and off-dock, strictly following cut-off time for export loading, quick execution of auction process as per existing rules, quick service of the scanner in the gate and allowing all lighter ships having 100Mt to 150Mt capacity to be directly routed back to small river ports across the country.
In reply to businesses' demand, CPA Chairman Rear Admiral M Khaled Iqbal said the government is planning to hand over the operational part to private sector gradually. International tender will be called in time.
He said the port cannot run alone. All parties concerned have to act together and in a coordinated way.
"If port unloads goods but banks are not there or covered vans are not there to transport, how the port would run. All stakeholders are connected to one another," he told the meet.
"Private participation like landlord system will be introduced. Laldia will be developed under PPP and Bay terminal under landlord system."
The chairman said no issue is justified for charging surcharge and extra-freight. The issue will be looked into and further consultation will be carried with relevant agencies.
He said the implementation of development plans will be started in 2019 with the building of Patenga container terminal with three container jetties and one oil-container jetty.
Former DCCI presidents Asif Ibrahim, Hossain Khaled, and Rashed Maksud Khan, member Admin and Planning of the Chittagong Port Authority Mohammad Zafar Alam, former Vice President of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) Mohammad Hatem, Senior Vice President Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Faruque Hassan, and member of the International Finance Corporation Masrur Reaz, among others, spoke at the roundtable.
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