Traders who import goods from Myanmar through Teknaf land port have become hostage to an organised syndicate at the trade gateway on the southeastern border of the country.
Port users say they are being forced to pay extra in every stage of the imports, from hiring workers to loading goods from boats to trucks, and during quarantine tests, submission of bill of entry at customs, and transportation.
But it is the retail consumers who bear the additional prices ultimately as costs are passed on.
Teknaf Land Port is operated by United Group, which has been running it since July 2012 on the “build, operation and transfer” arrangement basis.
Thirty-five clearing and forwarding (C&F) agents and 500 traders use the port, and 130 trucks are used to transport the goods.
One of the main items that is brought in from Myanmar is onion.
Traders claim they have to spend an additional Tk 26,000 per truck to carry imported goods through the port.
The organised syndicate charges an extra Tk 13,000 per truck for transporting goods, Tk 6,000 as labour cost, and Tk 7,000 for port evening service charges. As a result, they levy an additional cost of more than Tk 2,000 per tonne of the kitchen product, or Tk 2 per kg.
About 25,000 tonnes of onions were imported from Myanmar in October. The price of onion is Tk 26 per kg but it has to be sold at Tk 35-40 because of the additional cost, said Abdullah Al Faruque, an onion trader.
He said that they were not getting any remedy even after raising the issues with the port operator and the authorities.
At least 10 C&F agents and 12 importers echoed these concerns.
Port users say the transportation cost of a 13-tonne truck from Teknaf to Dhaka is Tk 27,000, but traders have to pay Tk 40,000. A truck is not allowed to enter the port if it is not listed with the Teknaf Landport Truck Owners Association.
The cost of loading goods on a truck is Tk 8,000. The cost is usually Tk 2,000, but labour suppliers charge an additional Tk 6,000.
Similarly, when a cargo truck leaves the port after 7 pm, United Group, the port operator, realises Tk 7,000 from the importers in the name of evening service charge. The operator deliberately delays the unloading to collect the fee, the users say.
Although the port has two gates, one is closed for 24 hours even though there are all sorts of arrangements for unloading goods and weighing.
During a visit to the port, a long queue of trucks at the first gate was found, creating a traffic snarl-up on the main road connecting Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf.
The Teknaf Land Port Management Committee was formed in 2013 by the commerce ministry. The upazila nirbahi Officer (UNO) is the convener of the committee.
The stakeholders attend the monthly meeting, and the issues have been discussed there, but they are yet to be resolved, the port users say.
Abdur Rashid, president of the Truck Owners’ Association, refuted the allegations of realising extra charges.
Mohammad Jasim Uddin Chowdhury, general manager of United Land Port Teknaf Ltd, said the second gate had been closed for security reasons.
“A section of traders is demanding the opening of the gate in order to use it to unload illegal goods.”
He added: “Importers or C&F agents can rent trucks as they wish, and we are bound to load goods on the truck they nominate. We don’t know why these trucks did not enter the port.”
Regarding the extra wages charged for loading goods, Chowdhury said he was not aware of it.
“None has complained to us about this. If I receive any complaint, I will look into these issues and take action.”
Parvez Chowdhury, UNO of Teknaf upazila, said they made recommendations to the general manager of the port operator and customs officials of the port about various allegations raised in the meeting.
“But if they do not implement them, the committee has no legal authority to take action.”
Contacted, Mohammad Jahangir Kabir, member (traffic) of Bangladesh Land Port Authority, said the port authority was unaware of the irregularities.
“United Group will be notified about the allegations. Hopefully, these problems will be resolved soon.”
In the four years to 2020, some 4.15 lakh tonnes of goods worth Tk 3,400 crore was imported through the port. Most of the products were onions, wood, fish, shoes, betel nuts, rice, and cosmetic items.