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Traders accuse URA officers of shielding smugglers

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Katuna border

Kabale, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The business community is expressing dissatisfaction with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and other border security officers, alleging their involvement in shielding smugglers along the Uganda-Rwanda border, particularly at Katuna in Kabale district.

Claiming continuous smuggling due to connivance with URA and security officers, the business community accuses them of accepting bribes to allow smuggled goods to cross into Uganda from Rwanda. The community asserts that officers rarely take action against smugglers entering Uganda from Rwanda, contrasting with their apparent diligence when goods move in the opposite direction.

Justus Tindimurekura, a tobacco trader, reports witnessing individuals smuggling cosmetics and beer from Rwanda to Uganda while URA and security officers stand by without intervening.  Tindimurekura alleges personally observing officers receiving bribes from smugglers.

Bright Arineitwe and Samuel Sserwanga Bunkeddeko, concerned businessmen and Chairperson of Clearing Agents at Katuna, Kyanika, and Mirama Hills borders, call for higher authorities to intervene in the matter.

Ronald Bakak, the Kabale Deputy Resident District Commissioner, acknowledges the reported involvement of URA and security officers in smuggling and assures ongoing investigations. He emphasizes that officers risk arrest and prosecution for causing financial loss to the government.

Gordon Mutungi, Officer in Charge of the URA customs office at Katuna border post, dismisses the accusations, asserting that goods worth about $15,000 (approximately UGX 50 million) were impounded from smugglers between July and December 2023. Mutungi lists impounded goods as mobile phones, cosmetics, beers, and cattle being smuggled from Rwanda to Uganda.

Edrine Mutebi, the acting assistant commissioner in charge of public and corporate affairs at URA, refutes the allegations, citing improvements in revenue collection since the closure and reopening of the Katuna border. Mutebi states that URA collected UGX 3.8 billion, equivalent to 42%, in the 2022/2023 fiscal year.

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The Katuna border was closed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame on February 27, 2019, citing various accusations against Ugandan authorities. The border was reopened in January 2022. In December 2023, high-profile cross-border meetings were held between Ugandan and Rwandan security officials to enhance trade, facilitate free movement,  control diseases, and combat smuggling.

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