Flowers attached to bumpers, the vehicles moved slowly, creating a semblance of a bridal entourage heading to Kasese, Western Uganda.
The drivers honked lightly as the two Silver Toyota Noah vehicles flashed the hazard indicators typical of bridal motorcades.
Looks are deceptive, goes the saying. It is also true that all that glitters is not gold. Indeed, the two vehicles were not occupied by a bride and groom, who could hardly wait to consummate their marriage.
Instead, on March 13, the cars that had tinted window glasses, contained 126 cartons of contraband liquor.
The smokescreen of proceeding to a wedding did not last long as Uganda Revenue Authority’s enforcement team in Mpondwe caught up with the “bridal entourage”. As the slow-moving vehicles reached Bwera in Kasese, the URA staff cornered them. Unlike other smugglers who often increase speed on seeing authorities, the two drivers abandoned their cargo and fled.
The cars, according to the URA spokesperson, Sarah Banage were towed to Mpondwe URA station as the hunt for the owners began.
Banage said that the wine was smuggled from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“Young men carried it on their shoulders before it was loaded into the vehicles at Karambi trading center near the Uganda border,” Banage stated.
The liquor included Jack Daniels, Remy Martins, Jameson whisky, Tequila Suaza, Nederburg and Viceroy Brandy. The owners have to pay Ush50 million in taxes and fines while the owners of the two cars will have to pay fines before repossessing their cars.
And on March 15, 2014, 20 more cartons of Nederburg wine were recovered from a house close to the Uganda-DRC border. The enforcement team suspected that all the impounded wine was imported by one person.
Before that week ended, URA enforcement personnel in Eastern Uganda recovered 330 sacks of contraband goods from two trucks. In a separate incident, 12 sacks of used shoes were recovered from a bus in Busembatya along Mbale Road. Mobile phones, which were stashed in a secret compartment in an intestate bus, were impounded earlier.
Such is the trickery and determination of smugglers that they would do anything to sneak items into the country without paying taxes. Despite authorities’ vigilance, the practice continues to thrive, affecting lives as some of the products are substandard. Additionally, revenue collection, which culminates into service delivery, is affected.
Over the years, unscrupulous people have devised unusual ways of smuggling. Among them is using empty fuel tankers to smuggle cigarettes and usage of ambulances like one which was used to smuggle polyethylene bags in Eastern Uganda.
People are addicted to the illegal practice for several reasons among them ignorance, which sees them smuggle exempted goods and poor quality products that would be rejected by border officials.
Some of the other most commonly smuggled items are mobile phones, cigarettes, and rice.
Commissioner Customs, Richard Kamajugo recently stated that Customs authorities are walking a tight rope of balancing between trade facilitation and control.
“When we control so much, we stifle business and when you facilitate beyond the level you should, you undermine business because sometimes the benefits are enjoyed by people who do not deserve them,” Kamajugo argued.
The focus now is enhancing interventions based on intelligence. Indeed, this approach has worked not only in the above instances but many others, Kamajugo added.
Smuggling was very rampant in Eastern Uganda in the past. However, due to increased surveillance including use of speed boats on Lake Victoria, perpetrators have now moved to the he “South Western axis”, according to Kamajugo.
He cited Mutukula as one of the places where smuggling is currently rampant. There, perpetrators hide the contraband under produce. An enforcement team in Mbarara recently intercepted a Matooke-laden vehicle. But on scrutiny, 90 boxes of batteries were recovered.
Story by Herbert Ssempogo of ura’s public amp corporate affairs division
Source : East African Business Week