The World Health Organisation donated personal protective equipment worth Tk83 crore to Bangladesh, but the equipment has remained stashed away for two months in the airport warehouse because of a mismatch between shipment records.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines fined WHO nearly Tk33 lakh when the products were not released from the warehouse even a month after they arrived at Dhaka Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. The first fifteen days were free of charge.
WHO, the civil aviation and tourism ministry, the health directorate and the health ministry have been exchanging letters since mid-December of last year so that the charges could be waived. Finally, the aviation ministry waived the fee this week.
Meanwhile, one more month has gone by, and the national carrier has imposed additional fees for this period.
In this bureaucratic tangle, the discharge of the medical equipment has become uncertain.
Biman Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Mokabbir Hossain told The Business Standard, "We have waived charges for 15 days on directives from the aviation and tourism ministry. But the fees for the remaining period will have to be cleared to get the PPE released."
The health ministry can pay off the fees on behalf of WHO, he said, adding that Biman was a business entity, which was why it could not exempt the organisation from the fee payment.
Sources at the health ministry said WHO had sent the PPE in two consignments after receiving requests from the government. The consignments arrived in Dhaka on November 20 and 21.
But customs clearance for discharging the items needed more time due to discrepancies in the shipment records. Therefore, they were kept at the warehouse.
The World Health Organisation wrote a letter to the managing director of Biman on December 17 on getting the charges waived.
Additional Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services Meerjady Sabrina Flora wrote to Health Secretary Abdul Mannan more than a week later to take necessary measures for the release of the medical equipment.
On January 18, the health directorate wrote to the aviation and tourism ministry requesting an exemption from the compensation and for the immediate release of the items.
The ministry, in response, waived the fees for 15 days. But it is reluctant to waive fees for the remaining one month.