‘Helping Pilgrims’ In KSA: Biman willfully paying twice for same job
Biman Bangladesh Airlines will be spending about Tk 12.9 crores ($1.18 million) to send 100 officials to Saudi Arabia to "assist Bangladeshi hajis" despite having a ground handling services agent who is supposed to do everything for about two-thirds of that cost.
Biman's contract with the agent, Saudi Ground Services (SGS) Company, states that they are supposed to spring into action the minute an aircraft lands on the tarmac.
"Arrange for [limited to knocking of door only] opening aircraft passenger door," states the contract. Then they are supposed to direct the passengers from the aircraft, provide them with transfer and connection services, transport them from the aircraft to the terminals and even provide the buses for the job.
They will document baggage information, offload baggage, handle it in the sorting area, deliver it to the claim area, and even handle crew's baggage. They will also handle all lost, damaged or delayed baggage.
While the hajis being escorted out, they will clean the plane including scrubbing out stains, clear out the toilet tanks, wipe each surface spotless, replenish water tanks, replace seat covers, disinfect and deodorise the air.
Once the plane is ready for departure again, they will check-in passengers, including even minute details like giving them upgrades and arranging for lounge facilities for those eligible.
The contract says that the SGS must provide the personnel needed to do these jobs, and even provide specially trained personnel for assisting unaccompanied minors, the elderly and those with health conditions.
They will perform all communication with aircraft, airport buildings and Biman, and liaison with all relevant people in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.
To do all these tasks with their own staff, the SGS is being given Tk 2.3 to Tk 2.5 lakh per flight depending on whether it is a transit flight or a turnaround flight.
For a total of 330 flights before and after the hajj, Biman will be paying on average Tk 8 crores to the ground handling services agent.
This figure could vary slightly for services requiring additional charges like flight delays, flights between 10:00pm and 6:00am, and miscellaneous things like provision of ground power units.
Asked about this, Biman Managing Director and CEO Shafiul Azim previously told The Daily Star that the employees of the national carrier have to do everything, including carrying the pilgrims' luggage to and from hotels and the large Zamzam water containers during their departure from Saudi Arabia.
There are a lot more work that need to be done within a short time after a Biman flight lands there, he said.
"In case of an hour's delay [for departure], the Saudi authorities will impose a hefty fine."
Shafiul also mentioned that Biman last year sent 119 officials to Saudi Arabia when it carried around 30,000 hajj pilgrims. "This year, Biman will carry around 62,000 pilgrims."
According to the SGS's contract, the agency is supposed to do everything, including carrying the Zamzam water containers. However, Biman can also fire the agency if it fails to do the jobs satisfactorily.
The contract clearly states that the SGS is supposed to provide all personnel required to do these jobs.
Biman got SGS to provide it with iqamah to take the staffers to Saudi Arabia as SGS employees. The Daily Star has a copy of the iqamah or "temporary work visa".
Apart from salaries, Biman will be bearing all costs for the staffers, including a daily "on corporate service" allowance that ranges between $287 and $381 for each for 37 days depending on the grade of an officer, according to Biman's outstation allowance chart.
After The Daily Star's previous report on this issue, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had sent a letter to Biman on May 28, bringing the media report to their attention and instructing them to ensure that nobody is being sent unnecessarily.
Twenty-four officials have already gone to Saudi Arabia, said Biman sources.
Biman is sending at least 33 officials from its customer service department, eight officials from the engineering and material management department, 28 sales and marketing officials, and two administration and HR officials.
The carrier has also hired Elaf Aviation for sales and marketing in KSA and its job includes having sales offices, counters, a 24-hour call centre, staff to man these fronts.
This newspaper could not reach State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Mahbub Ali and Civil Aviation Secretary Mokammel Hossain for comments as they did not respond to calls yesterday.