Though digitisation is now all the rage in every sector of the economy, it does not seem to be the case with the management of the 'bonded warehouse' facility. In fact, the effort to automate the system was undertaken four years back in 2017 with a generous fund allocation by the government to complete the work by June 30, 2021. Oddly, for reasons best known to the authorities concerned, only 7.0 per cent of the allocated fund could be utilised so far. Such slow utilisation of fund, those in charge of implementing the project reasoned, has to do with the process of reaching a consensus among all the stakeholders, in case, any procedural change is necessary. Here, the said stakeholders include, among others, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA), exporters and the Bangladesh Bank (BB). But, as evidenced by Wednesday's report on the issue in this paper, this is purely a lame excuse for delaying progress of the work. The same report further points to the fact that the beneficiaries of such delay are quarters who have been abusing the bonded warehousing facility with the aim to avoid paying legitimate duty. And, if the system is digitised and thus rendered more transparent, it would be hard for the quarters, who are not entitled to avail themselves of the service, to abuse it.
Notably, provided by the National Board of Revenue (NBR), bonded warehousing is a system that facilitates duty-free import of inputs for export-oriented industries. Also, diplomats and privileged persons can avail the facility. So, there is no gainsaying the importance of protecting such a vital system to facilitate external trade from unauthorised use. Only more so because if such abuse of the system is allowed to go unabated, the government risks losing a significant portion of the revenue it earns annually from it.
In that case, the sooner the digitisation work for the facility in question is implemented, the better for the beneficiaries of the system. But so far, according to knowledgeable sources in the NBR, only 60 per cent of the targeted automation work could be done. And that, too, with the expenditure of a paltry sum of Tk 64.2 million out of the total allocation of over Tk 811 million. Even so, the question might still be asked as to how even sixty per cent of the work could be finished with so little money! However, officials involved in the project have the explanation that the actual expenditure made is yet to be ascertained as payments against such contractual work are made at the end of the project. That apart, an example of cost-saving might also be set, it was given to learn, by way of returning the unspent money to the government.
Be that as it may, but the work of fully digitising the bonded warehouse facility is yet to be finished. Thankfully, since meeting the previous schedule to complete the automation work has not been possible, the project has been given a new lease of life by extending it until June 30, 2023. Furthermore, it is reassuring to learn that a hefty sum of Tk 930 million has been proposed as a revised allocation for the task. So far so good. Now, the point is to complete the remaining work of the 'bonded warehouse digitisation' by the newly set deadline.