With the rise in the volume of import and export, the need for minimising the time and cost involved in the process of clearing goods from the land, sea and airports cannot be overemphasised. In this context, what a recent study titled, 'Time Release Study (TRS)-2022' conducted by Bangladesh customs officials with the support of the World Customs Organization (WCO) has come up with is indeed revealing. At the country's biggest seaport at Chattogram, for example, importers had to go through 32 steps to complete the process of clearing their goods from the port. Similarly, at the country's largest land port at Benapole, the number was 28, while at the Hazrat Shahjalal Airport in Dhaka, it was 25 steps. Here, each step is a point through which the paperwork for clearing the imported goods is cycled before those are finally released.
Obviously, the steps involve time and cost. So far as the delays in such a tardy clearing process is involved, as the study report further noted, the importers and the authorised agents to clear and forward the imported goods took the most time--between 72 and 78 per cent of the total time. The breakdown of the clearance time for the Chattogram port, for instance, shows that the importers and customs brokers took 75 per cent of the time, while for the port office it was 14 per cent, for customs 8.0 per cent, for other government desks 2.0 per cent, while the shipping agents took 1.0 per cent of the time.
Clearly, such huge wastage of man hour and money is impeding smooth external trade which the nation can neither afford nor should it be allowed. The story is more or less the same for the country's air and the land ports. However, according to the customs clearing agents, as reported in this paper on Tuesday, there are also some issues related to the electronic communications infrastructure that cause delays in the clearing process at the port which include slow internet speed and occasional disruptions of online network. Against this backdrop, it is reassuring to learn that to get around this time-consuming process of clearing cargoes at the country's ports, an initiative has been taken by the customs authority to introduce a solution called Business Process Reengineering (BPR). It is in fact about radical redesigning of a business process to markedly improve its quality, output, cost, service and speed.
As reported, with the technical assistance of the US development agency, USAID, the customs authority has already prepared a report identifying the unnecessary steps in the import-export process. Upon introduction of the BPR, some steps that are done manually such as the submission of papers will be automated, while others will be merged, it could be further learnt. It is expected that the BPR to be so instituted, once operational, would reduce the time and cost of business-import and export-by 30 to 40 per cent.
As could be gathered from the Chattogram seaport over the decade between FY2013 and FY2022, the number of import bills processed by its customs house increased by more than 161 per cent. But given its poor infrastructural backbone and the lack of an updated system to perform the clearance work faster, it is only natural that the Chattogram port is facing the aforementioned procedural hurdles. Hopefully, the government would see to it that the move to expedite the customs clearance work with the help of the suggested solution is duly made operational. And the sooner it is done, the better.