Monday, September 22, 2008

Building Bangladesh



Operated by the Navy, Khulna Shipyard Limited, which has just celebrated its 50th anniversary, is a rare example where a government-run industry is actually making money

In a country where government-run industries are synonymous with corruption and mismanagement, Khulna Shipyard Limited (KSY) has been making a profit for the last eight years. Located around 300 kilometres away from the capital, the KSY was built on over 68.97 acres of land in Khulna by a German firm called Stulcken Sohn in 1957.

It was handed over to the Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation (BSEC) in 1972. The decision soon turned out to be a bad one, for the shipyard, which can repair 16-20 medium size ships at a time, has suffered occasional bouts of loss and had hardly seen any happy times. As the sad state of the yard persisted for 15 consecutive years, Bangladesh Navy (BN) has been given the responsibility of running the KSY on October 3 1999.

For the shipyard, there has been no turning back since then. Manned by 813 people, of whom 36 belonging to the BN, since then it has built 30 new ships, earning the government exchequer millions. “This year, up till April, our sales have reached an all-time high with a profit of TK 6.89 crore,” says an official of the yard. He believes the quality of its products, competitive price and timely delivery have earned the KSY the trust and admiration of local and foreign buyers.

As far as history is concerned, Bangladesh, a riverine delta that it is, has been a hub of shipbuilding. Our country is endowed with the beauty of nature; hundreds of rivers crawl through the lush green landscape of our motherland. We have always been seafarers, but the tradition of using the waterways for ferry goods and people has died away slowly as the subsequent governments have put more emphasis on constructing roads and bridges. Given that inland transportation of goods and commodities is cheaper, if proper attention is given to it, our water transport can do miracles for our economy.

The KSY can play a decisive role in the growth of water transport sector, which in turn, will foster growth and economic development. The official says his company is ready to take up the challenge. “We are doing phase-wise modernisation by introducing modern technology. We also have plans to reduce overhead cost and explore domestic and international market,” he says. A joint venture project to build a slipway is in the offing; construction of a medium size ship should be underway.

Another official says that what sets the KSY apart from other companies is that its products--the ships--are designed and tailor-made to meet the operational needs, and while striving to create effective business development, the KSY management places outmost importance on relationship development with its customers and suppliers. “Satisfied customers,” he says, “are a business's best investment.”

The government has its role to play to help the KSY materialise the dream of making it the best shipbuilding yard in Asia, which its relentless managers and workers have been trying to materialise. The company has achieved a quality management system as per as per ISO 9001: 2000 and is maintaining it in style. “It has also increased its production turnover in allied production sector,” the official says, “man-hour loss has been reduced.”

Inland water transport, as a sector, should be prioritised; the KSY needs to be armed with state-of-the art equipment and machinery to meet the challenges of the new millennium. The story of KSY shows us that if discipline and honesty are guided by innovation, local industries can flourish and can make industrialisation come true.

Our country has become independent through a bloody war. The dreams of the three million martyrs of our liberation war have been a society free from all forms of exploitation, an industrially developed country with a steady economic growth. Ventures like the KSY will surely bring the dream of golden Bengal a little closer.

This article was first published in the August 8, 2008 issue of the Star Magazine