GSP (Generalised Scheme of Preference) certificate for duty-free access to the EU is essential for exporters. But textile division officials at the EPB (Export Promotion Bureau) have been receiving extra money for this for years. This illegal ‘speed money’ ensures the tradesmen receive the service without delay.Bangladesh’s EPB, under the ministry of commerce, issues GSP certificates. Exporters allege that it has become an open practice to pay Tk 300 extra per certificate.According to the exporters, anyone unwilling to pay the illegal money will face delays or their files will go missing. Moreover, they add, extra money has to be paid for EPB registration certificates also.We made several visits to the EPB head office at Karwan Bazar of Dhaka in August and December. Every time the officials at each counter were seen to take money along with the files from RMG (readymade garments) factory officers in the open.Though EPB did not provide data on the number of GSP certificates issued yearly, BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) said that members of the organisation were granted a total of 4,68,934 certificates in 2016.If the alleged extra Tk 300 is taken for each case, then the EPB employees took Tk 40 million 680 thousand in total, illegally, from BGMEA members alone in one year.The knitwear exporters also pay the illegal fee. This scenario is not confined to RMG but prevails in the case of other commodities also.Narayanganj and Chittagong EPB offices are no exception.Two of the former co-chairmen at BGMEA, on condition of anonymity, said that illegal transaction is common to the 300-400 GSP certificates issued everyday at the Chittagong EPB.In the same manner, a knitwear factory owner at Narayanganj shared his experience of no GSP certificate without ‘speed money’ with the local EPB office.TIB (Transparency International Bangladesh) trustee and former consultant to the ex-caretaker government, M. Hafizuddin Khan, said if the bribery goes on, giving in to fear and ultimately negotiating, bribery will be on rise rather than decline.Bangladesh enjoys GSP privileges from EU on every commodity except arms. According to the European Commission, in 2016 Bangladesh exported commodities worth Euro 16.39 billion to 28 EU countries while RMG exported garments worth Euro 14.96 billion. For a duty-free export of garments, it has to be proved to be made in Bangladesh. GSP certificate certifies that. As the exporter gets a purchase order he has to collect the certificate and send it to the buyer. Without this, the foreign customer fails to enjoy the duty-free privilege offered by his country.When we asked BGMEA chairman Siddiqur Rahman about this, he said, “Once we complained about this to the commerce minister. It was resolved promptly. Persons were removed.”Two more co-chairmen from BGMEA, on condition of anonymity, also admitted the corruptionFormer vice-president of BKMEA (Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association), Mohammad Hatem, said, “The EPB office was at Motijheel in the 90s. Even at that time, the officials took extra money for GSP certificate. When the office was shifted to Karwan Bazar the amount of the money increased. The businessmen never raise their voice as they get speedy service. The cost of business is on a rise for this”. He says, other sectors were in a far worse situation regarding EPB.An RMG factory owner in Gazipur says, to get a GSP certificate in 12 hours it requires a pay-order worth Taka 500, while for 24 hours it is Tk 400 and for 48 hours Tk 300. Furthermore, an EPB employee has to be paid Tk 300-350 extra every time.EPB vice chairman Bijoy Bhattacharjee told Prothom Alo on Monday, “All the transactions are carried out via the bank. There is no room for any transaction except the EPB counter. Moreover, every counter has a CCTV camera. We monitor through these. If anything outside this happens at a personal level, then I do not know anything about that.” Concerning the proof about the allegations, he said, “I do not disbelieve. If anyone has specific accusations, I will take action. But no one ever complains.”On 16 August we went to the EPB office and found a commercial officer from an export garments factory dropping seven applications. He gave an EPB employee Tk 2,100. In the meantime we talked to the commercial official. He said, without a minimum of Tk 300, a GSP file was not even touchedAgain on 18 December, an RMG commercial officer was seen dropping the application form at one counter and to give money to the counter next to it. However, money was being transacted at the other counters next to it quite openly.Anwar Hossain, a commercial officer, said, “For about 27 years I’m taking the GSP certificates from EPB. Around Tk 50 extra had to be paid earlier while now it has increased to Tk 300.” He mentions various kinds of harassment to extort money- deliberate errors in the invoice or shipping bills and dillydallying. Since a delay in GSP just after an export is disastrous, large companies pay the EPB office on a monthly basis.On the other hand, employees and officials of EPB compete to get appointed at the textile cell. According to a higher official at EPB, the director and deputy director of the cell were transferred last August. But, the transfer order did not come into effect.The official also said, as the illegal transactions made quite a stir all on a sudden in August, the transfers were issued and later postponed due to unknown reasons. As the bribe is shared by most of the officials at the textile cell, corruption goes unchecked for years after years, he observed.*The piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.