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Law Enforcement Abetting Smuggling-Smugglers

The Chairperson of the Women's Cross Border Traders Cooperative Society, Mariam Babu says security agencies have a lot to do in terms of attitude change, saying some of them are corrupt and end up blocking efforts to curtail it.
02 Mar 2021 17:22

Audio 5

Smugglers across the Uganda-Kenya border have blamed the persistence of the vice on the corruption by government officials as well as the inconsistent trade and tax policies in the two countries. Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) says it recovers about Shillings 530 million monthly from smugglers in Busia from various types of smugglers. Smuggling takes different forms including under-declaring cargo, wrong-declaration and using illegal routes, or what is termed direct smuggling.  

Busia and Malaba are the main hotspots of smuggling, largely because Uganda’s main trading partner is Kenya.  However, it happens across all borders, according to the URA. A survey by regional advocates for trade and tax good practices show that evil is abated by many factors including lack of more profitable alternative activities for the people, corruption among enforcement agencies, the difference in taxes and other policies between the countries, as well as ignorance.

Most of the small-scale cross-border traders, many of whom are involved in smuggling actually think they are doing genuine or legitimate business. Many of them have grown up relying on smuggling as their source of livelihood and as they get older, they take on from the elder ones and the practice continues.

The survey on the small-scale cross-border traders shows that female traders dominate the trade, while the towns also attract a good number of physically handicapped persons involved in the trade. It is common for wheelchairs to be seen crossing borders along the gazetted crossing points carrying small volumes of cargo, but also able-bodied ones carrying the goods on their heads or on bicycles, while children also participate in moving small amounts of cargo.

The law enforcers say these categories of people are difficult to crack down because it is difficult to tell whether they are smuggling or carrying items for home use. Most of the goods smuggled from Kenya include salt and packaged processed foods, while from Uganda; the smugglers mainly deal in alcoholic drinks, polyethene bags and sugar among others.

Others traders claim to have homes on either side of the border and it is impossible for them not to move things between their homes. However, the people involved in smuggling also say the primary cause of smuggling is the differences in prices and availability of the goods on either side of the border and differences in tax policies, among others.

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On average law enforcers, especially with the involvement of customs personnel, arrest four smugglers on a daily basis. However, there are many more that are let go after paying some money to police and other security personnel manning the border points. 

Armstrong Turyakira, the URA Manager Customs in Busia District, says they recover an average of Shillings 536 million in a month. He says smuggling is part of the life of the border communities and, while the current interventions have made some positive results, a lot needs to be done including sensitization. 

Turyahika adds that the smugglers for example are not aware that the goods produced in Kenya are not taxed, while things like pharmaceuticals and agricultural inputs are also exempted.   

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The Chairperson of the Women's Cross Border Traders Cooperative Society, Mariam Babu says security agencies have a lot to do in terms of attitude change, saying some of them are corrupt and end up blocking efforts to curtail it.      Babu, a former smuggler says she was once blocked by a policeman from taking pictures of the smuggling routes when doing a documentary, saying that smuggling will never be defeated. 

But there are also issues to do with the setup of the areas, wherein some areas along the border, the closest shops to the communities are across the border, according to Babu.   

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There have been efforts by the East African Community Partner states to harmonise the tax and trade policies but this has met obstacles mainly as countries prefer to maintain their national policies for fear of losing out trade, investments and tax revenues. 

Samuel Musige, the Principal Commercial Officer at Ministry of East African Community Affairs, says the harmonization process has taken long leading to both tariff and not tariff barriers.

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While there are efforts at the top level to see that smuggling is curtailed, the danger is, that the communities are also involving or encouraging children to get involved at an early age, which makes the fight even more difficult.

Regina Navuga, the Program Coordinator Finance for Development at SEATINI Uganda says this is one major source of illicit financial flows, and it will take concerted efforts to bring it under control.

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