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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: CAAB needs to wake up

It is hard to earn back trust once it is broken

Update : 19 Jul 2020, 08:26 PM

Bangladeshis are on the verge of being blocked and ostracized by airports around the world due to our mishandling of the coronavirus certificates. If we don’t take heed now, it’s not just the general not-very-important citizens who won’t be able to travel abroad; even the VIPs won’t be able to leave their motherland. 

The current situation in Bangladesh is nothing short of mass confusion as a result of not-well-thought-out directives being given by the relevant ministries. There appears to be a lack of communication between the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB), the Foreign Ministry, the Department of Immigration, and other related authorities. Directives are being handed down on an ad-hoc basis without any centrally coordinated command. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has mandated that all passengers must bear a negative coronavirus certificate issued by shortlisted testing centres. Whereas the CAAB has argued that no other country is requiring its own citizens to carry such certificates, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines do not mandate such a certificate either. 

With claims already being made of falsified or fake certificates being issued, the question remains as to what the qualifications and standards should be for being an approved and shortlisted testing centre? Moreover, when the world is still grappling with changing information as to the nature of the coronavirus almost on a daily basis, how does one adhere to such standards?

The airline and immigration authorities operate on the basis of trust. That is, for example, when the Civil Aviation Authority at Singapore (CAAS) Airport clears a passenger for travel, their counterpart at London Heathrow Airport assumes and expects that the CAAS has done a proper job in assuring that the passenger has the proper travel documents. 

Under the Covid-19 scenario, the British authorities would also expect that CAAS would not allow a passenger displaying Covid-19 symptoms to board the plane. It is fair to expect that, soon all airports around the world would expect the same integrity and accountability with regards to Covid-19 from their counterparts. 

It is, therefore, vitally important that our own CAAB establishes such trust and accountability immediately without fail. Because, it is hard to earn back trust once it is broken.

What is urgently required is a central command centre consisting of the relevant ministries, representatives from manpower, travel, and tourism associations, and CAAB personnel. 

A joint task force should come together to provide guidelines and standards for travelling from Bangladesh. It should also state the testing methodology and criteria for testing the coronavirus, if such a test or certificate is at all deemed necessary. 

Does a passenger carry their own certificates, or should the certificates be sent directly to the CAAB with a copy to the passengers? 

How long would such a certificate be valid? What if a flight is delayed or cancelled beyond such a time limit? 

What would be the modus operandi for urgent travel, be it for urgent meetings or medical treatment? 

The more important question is: Are we even equipped to control and administer such directives without hindering travel, or increasing passenger’s suffering? 

When no other country is asking for negative coronavirus certificates, why are we even having this conversation?

Approximately 2 million Bangladeshis travel abroad each year. These include business travellers, tourists, students, and patients seeking medical treatments abroad. These also include government officials travelling on official government business. 

Our two main GDP drivers are the RMG sector and foreign remittances received from non-resident Bangladeshis (NRB), particularly the overseas migrant workers. Both of these require foreign travel. 

As it already stands, getting a visa to anywhere with a Bangladeshi passport is a feat and a challenge. Bangladeshi passport holders must not be burdened by additional scrutiny, or even banishment, due to the failure of our civil aviation authorities and the foreign ministry. The CAAB must check and guarantee that adequate measures have been put in place to ease our burdens.

There is another problem -- no one being able to leave may also mean no one visiting us. Foreigners visiting Bangladesh may be subject to adverse treatment after returning from Bangladesh. This will take a serious toll on businesses that require face-to-face interactions with customers and clients. It will most certainly affect the garments trade, as buyers may be unwilling to visit Bangladesh. 

Similar to our cultural practice where we are deemed guilty until proven innocent, unfortunately, our reputation abroad similarly precedes us in this matter. With concerns related to falsified documents and passports in the past, the onus of responsibility will rely on our government authorities to build, assure, and guarantee the reputation and integrity of CAAB, especially if coronavirus certificates are to be issued in Bangladesh. 

If our VIPs and politicians want to be able to travel freely to get their medical treatments elsewhere, well, they cannot afford to get this wrong.

MR Khan is a risk specialist and the CEO of Integrated Risk Consulting Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

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