3 days ago

Container 'miscalculation' reinforces export data mistrust

Inflated container info confounds trade situation

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A row over export-data mismatch is now followed by allegation that inflated data on container-handling performance have long been produced under the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) domain, sources said.

Such alleged prime-port miscalculation of container handling only adds credence to the export-data mistrust created by recent disclosure of mismatches churned out by different authorities concerned.

The central bank recently came up with revised export data for the July-April period of the fiscal year 2023-24 that revealed that the actual export was lower by $13.8 billion compared to the figure published by the EPB. Also, the discrepancy in the previous fiscal year was $12 billion between the figures produced by the EPB and the Bangladesh Bank.

Officials say the Chittagong seaport has two other arms- Kamalapur Inland Container Depot (ICD) and Pangaon Inland Container Terminal (ICT)-- whose box handling is also being counted up with overall performance of the country's prime port.

They say when an import container with final destination at Pangaon ICT or Kamalapur ICD is unloaded at a Chittagong port jetty, the handling of the box is being counted in the performance of Chittagong port.

Thereafter, when the box is carried to Pangaon ICT or Kamalapur ICD from the Chittagong port jetty by waterway or railway, it is also counted in the handling performance of the ICT or the ICD.

The same happens in the case of outgoing containers, which are being transported through Pangaon ICT or Kamalapur ICD to Chittagong port, for loading onto ships.

And when the CPA counts the overall monthly or yearly performance of the Chittagong port, according to officials concerned, it calculates total containers handled at the port jetties and in Pangaon ICT and Kamalapur ICD.

This means the number of containers handled at the Pangaon ICT and Kamalapur ICD are being shown twice over in the overall port performance as they were also being counted in the performance of the main port itself.

Data show that in fiscal year 2022-23 the Chittagong port handled a total of 3.007 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of containers. Of the total, 93,554 TEUs were handled at Kamalapur ICD and 35,740 TEUs at the Pangaon ICT.

A senior Chittagong port official says if the handling data are calculated flawlessly, the actual figure would stand at 2.878 million TEUs in the FY 2022-23, not the 3.007 million TEUs as shown by the CPA.

Based on the bloated data, the CPA for the first time in fiscal year 2019-20 showed that it had reached the club of ports which handle three million containers annually.

"Yes, you have detected the matter accurately," says Enamul Karim, Director (Traffic) of the CPA.

He acknowledges that containers transported through Kamalapur ICD and Pangaon ICT are double-counted.

"This is the system, followed worldwide similarly," he claims.

Omar Faruk, spokesperson for the CPA, wouldn't comment on the matter. However, he said: "As the traffic director acknowledged the matter, you can use the info."

The CPA chairman, Rear Admiral Mohammad Sohail, did not respond to calls and SMSs for his say.

Khairul Alam Sujan, vice-president, Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association, thinks that due to the failure in developing proper data-calculation system the repetition in container-handling data has been happening.

"Digitisation of handling data-calculation system can help lessen data mismatch," he told the FE correspondent.

Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, told the FE data mismatch is "pervasive in almost all sectors in Bangladesh which raised questions about the national accounts of the country".

"Resolving these problems is not a big matter despite limitations," he said, adding that if the port authority maintains a standard reporting practice, the data inconsistency can be eliminated.

Mr Moazzem notes that Kamalapur ICD and Pangaon ICT do not handle a big number of containers annually. "Thus, showing inflated handling data would not bring big credit for the CPA.

"It would be wise for the CPA to bring transparency in data collection and reporting."

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