A public hearing was jointly organised by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Corruption Prevention Committee (CPA) on November 13 to hear complaints against port officials, employees and equipment operators who are allegedly taking bribes from clearing and forwarding (C&F) agents and subjecting them to various forms of harassment and delaying tactics in cargo handling. This is the first hearing of its kind, and although only 16 of the 52 complainants turned up at the event, what they had to say, speaks volumes about the irregularities occurring on a routine basis at the most important international sea port of the country.
Apparently, a section of crane operators and staffers cause unnecessary delay in finding containers at the yards and transporting those inside the port. Complainants, in their written statements, have said that all these activities are supposed to be normal functions of port authority personnel. In reality, they require speed money to be paid for each container at various stages of cargo handling. A failure to come up with unlawful demands can result in delay and even wilful damage to commodities being shipped via containers. These issues, and others, were presented by the Bangladesh Shipping Agents’ Association at the hearing to the ACC official present as chief guest. The C&F agents’ association’s bold step to communicate a lot of the complaints to the ACC, we believe, is a step in the right direction. The Chittagong port is the principal port of entry and exit for the bulk of our imports and exports. If organised crime is allowed to flourish there, we cannot expect to score well in international business indices that prospective foreign investors look at. Nor can we expect a reduction in the cost of doing business and these added “extra” costs bode ill for both outbound and inbound cargo. Now that the ACC has been made aware of the situation, we hope the investigation is done thoroughly and corrupt officials are taken to task as per law in line with the government’s stance of taking a “zero tolerance” policy on corruption wherever it exists.