Long delays in auctioning off goods brought in and abandoned by importers at the Chattogram Port are not only damaging a good portion of the items but also depriving the authorities and shipping agents of revenues.
Port users say the goods are not being put up for public sale because of the indifference of the customs authorities and other complexities, but nobody is benefitting from the delay.
The abandoned goods have been occupying a huge amount of space at the port for months, hampering the port's activities.
Due to the failure in arranging auctions on time, 6,780 import consignments containing goods worth Tk 5,000 crore remained stuck in the port for five years to 2018, data from the port and the Chattogram Customs House showed.
Of the consignments, 295 went missing from the restricted area of the port. Only 239 containers of imported goods worth Tk 50 crore were disposed off in the last two years.
Port users said if auctions were held on time, wastages and incidents of goods going missing could have been averted.
The customs authorities managed to auction off imported goods worth Tk 48 crore in 2017-18, up from Tk 43 crore in 2016-17. Goods worth Tk 38 crore were auctioned in the July-December period of the current fiscal year, data from the customs auction department showed.
According to rules, if an importer fails to receive imported consignments within 30 days after the goods are unloaded from ships, the port authorities hand over the import documents to the customs authorities for issuing a notice to the importer.
If the importer does not take the delivery within 15 days after the issuance of the notice, the goods can be auctioned off.
The reasons for not taking delivery of the imported goods include a fall in price of goods in the local market, failure to submit original documents in support of the shipment, failure to get clearance permit report and importers' refusal to pay fines if they are accused of anomalies.
Importers can keep containers in the port for four days free of cost and after the period they have to pay charges.
On February 11 this year, the port city customs house started disposing of 3,000 tonnes of perished food and chemical goods stuffed in 130 containers.
The goods were shipped in by 50 importers in the seven years to 2016. Of the containers, 42 belong to Mediterranean Shipping Company.
Ajmir Hossain Chowdhury, assistant general manager of the company, says, "Our containers have remained stuck at the port for years while we have not been able to get the rent for the containers. Moreover, we have to pay electricity bill for the refrigerated containers and pay for the disposal of the items.”
“Since the auctions have not taken place in time, we could neither use the containers for other consignments nor send them back to the owning companies abroad."
Chowdhury said many container owners are expressing unwillingness to supply containers to Bangladesh-bound goods and are charging extra.
Altaf Hossain Bachchu, general secretary of the Chattogram Customs Clearing and Forwarding Agents Association, said the unreleased consignments should be put up for auction regularly to save the goods from being wasted.
He said the auction procedure is lengthy. “The process should be made simpler. Otherwise, consignments left abandoned will keep piling up.”
Chattogram Port Authority Secretary Md Omar Faruq said the port was losing revenue since the space occupied by the containers loaded with import goods cannot be rented out.
In 2015, the CCH took an e-tendering programme to speed up the auction process but it is yet to be implemented.
CCH Commissioner Kazi Mustafizur Rahman said the auction did not take place in time because of a dearth of workforce and equipment.
The customs is going to take initiatives, including increasing the workforce and equipment and implementing the e-tendering.
The customs destroyed 21 containers of fruits and food items in September 2017, 88 containers of perishable goods in December 2017 and 130 containers of perishable food and chemical goods on February 11.