In a surprise visit to the Dhaka airport yesterday, Salman F Rahman, adviser to the prime minister on private industry and investment, blamed the authorities over their failure in fixing the damaged Explosive Detection System (EDS) used during the export of goods by air.
Four EDS machines had been malfunctioning at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA), slowing down the export of goods.
Expressing his anger, he said major European buyers, especially Inditex Group, C&A and H&M, had complained of not getting their products on time.
Domestic traders had also made the same complaints, he told journalists, which is why he had decided to visit the Airport Cargo Village by himself.
Officials of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, HSIA and leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) were present during the visit.
At a press conference after the visit, Salman told reporters that after inspection it was clear that due to negligence of the authorities in fixing the machines, exports were being hampered.
A meeting will be held soon with the aviation ministry and its secretary to hold them accountable.
Saying exports are the lifeline of the country's economy, he said that the matter would be taken seriously.
Salman F Rahman and BGMEA leaders entered the Cargo Village at 3:38 pm. After a half-hour visit there, he held a press conference at the airport.
The adviser also asked why the road in front of the Cargo Village's entrance was so narrow.
After entering the Cargo Village, he expressed displeasure at the products lying there awaiting clearance.
At the time, Biman Bangladesh Airlines Chairman Sajjadul Hasan and Group Captain AHM Touhid-ul Ahsan, executive director of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, were present. He questioned both of them.
"We are going to be a middle-income country. Why is the situation here like this? It is a matter of great shame. You [the authorities] will not improve the system and nor will you allow others to do so," he said.
He then visited the EDS machine area, where journalists were not allowed.
During the press conference held next to the VIP lounge at around 4.45pm, he said the four machines at the cargo village had been damaged. Two were in operation earlier, but one had been shut for six months, while the other had malfunctioned around 10 days ago.
The needed spare parts were not available at the time. The remaining two machines had been installed six months ago, but they were yet to be validated by the company which installed it.
He asked why the machines installed in March were yet to be in operation. When they mentioned the cause to be a delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the adviser to the PM said the reason was "not acceptable" and "very sad".
"I am very disappointed. If the validation is done next October, it will be possible to launch the new machines in the first week of November. And the old machines have to be fit for operation in the next seven days," he said.
He said that due to the delays stemming from the malfunctioning machines, export was being hampered despite there being an opportunity.
"The image of the country is being ruined. The biggest problem in the private sector now is the issue of exports from Dhaka airport," Salman said.
Highlighting the growing opportunities for export, he said, "Now we have a big opportunity. China has shut down the textile industry due to power shortages… also Vietnam's factories had been shuttered due to the pandemic. This is the time for getting lots of orders.
"If you can't fix the problems at the airport, there will be no extra business opportunities," he said.
He said currently, products were being scanned by dogs, which was a time-consuming process. Wasted time also meant additional costs, he added.
Freight forwarders said 85% of the goods that Dhaka airport handles are readymade garments.
They, however, also said the Dhaka airport has lost its handling capacity due to the absence of scheduled flights, failure in the EDS and ongoing construction work of the third terminal.
Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association (BAFFA) President Kabir Ahmed, earlier this month, told TBS that in the absence of scheduled flights, exporters had become almost fully dependent on freighter aircraft, which were not operating regularly in the country.
At the time, he said, "It is the peak time for apparel export but an explosive detection system machine has been out of order for a long time; another one was shut down after a period of work. But explosive detection scanning is mandatory for export to European Union countries."
Earlier, the BGMEA had urged the CAAB and the tourism ministry to enhance the cargo-handling capacity at the airport. Besides, it also asked for more EDS machines to be installed at the airport for proper cargo scanning.