Tax body, Uganda Revenue Authority has bust a racket of some of its informers and other members of the public who take advantage of their connections to fleece importers of huge sums of money after threatening to confiscate their goods or report them for under-declaring goods.
According to Fred Kasozi, a victim of the racket, as he offloaded goods at his store in Nansana last month, three vehicles including a Toyota RAV4, Prado and Mark X came at a terrific speed before two police officers who were part of the group jumped off and ordered that the ongoing offloading exercise stops with immediate effect.
“The other occupants came to the truck and requested to have a look at my clearance documents from URA. When I presented them, one of them (who seemed to be their leader) said my goods had been undervalued and that I needed to return them to Nakawa for proper valuation,”Kasozi says.
He says that the team leader who presented himself as a customs officer ordered that the truck be driven up to Nakawa for proper valuation but on asking for leniency, the ‘customs officer’ asked him to speak an ‘understandable’ language so that the issue could be sorted without further escalating it.
“He asked me what I could offer. He said I should part with two million shillings or else the goods are driven to Nakawa. A lady who was an occupant in one of the vehicles then came and took photographs of my vehicle and drove off. The second vehicle also set off and we later settled at one million shillings with the ‘customs’ officer,”Kasozi says.
He narrates that after paying the money, the so-called enforcement officer said he was to use the police officers he had to guard Kasozi’s goods as they were being offloaded and when the exercise was done, they drove off.
Kasozi says, as he thought things had been done after offloading the goods but it was not yet uhuru for him as another vehicle with security officers arrived and told him they had been sent to lock his store.
“When I asked them why they were locking my store, they told me they had been sent by URA,”Kasozi narrates.
He adds that later, another pickup with more police officers came to guard the store until the next day when his goods were finally driven to Nakawa URA headquarters.
This website understands that the man who pretended to be a customs officer was a URA informer who after getting wind of the importer who had under-declared goods, swung into action to fleece him of money.
After getting money, the informer would later report the matter to his bosses who later impounded the goods and this meant he was double-dealing and eating from both sides.
URA speaks out
According to Julius Rubagumya, the acting Commissioner in charge of the Customs department, the racket has been involved in the vice, noting that some of its members have since been arrested.
“Caleb Kankiriho, 34 a resident of Naalya, was on February 8, 2020, arrested on allegations that he together with a network of unscrupulous persons have been stopping trucks loaded with imported goods and extorting money from businessmen through misrepresentation and trickery,”Rubagumya said.
He noted that Kankiriho was arrested after several complaints from traders, forcing the tax body to trail him as he held out as a customs officer and sometimes uses names of some commissioners in URA when demanding money from them.
“They use names of commissioners when demanding for money from them saying the money would be shared with management in return for assurance that their consignments would not be intercepted by enforcement.”
Rubagumya, however, described Kankiriho as one of the many “self-proclaimed” informers for the customs department who use their informal relationship to occasionally “mislead” security officers into intercepting containers for traders who refuse to give them money.
“They provide misleading information that the containers have concealed goods,” he said.
According to Ian Rumanyika, the Public and Corporate affairs manager at URA , the groups takes advantage of a thin manpower on the ground to fleece the traders.
“They use these loopholes that we are understaffed and are not everywhere on the ground to defraud the public,”Rumanyika said.
However, Kankiriho denied the same saying the allegations are unfounded.
“There is no evidence to pin me to it. They are saying we have been operating with security officers, where are they,”Kankiriho questioned.
Godfrey Balamaga, the acting commissioner in charge of enforcement at URA, however, said the tax body has since devised means to deal with the vice.
“We have introduced a network at our borders that will see these conmen phased out. We also have a presence at the ports of Mombasa and Dar Es- Salaam that will enable us get information about goods coming into the country, 14 days before the vessel docks,”Balamaga said.
He, however, asked members of the public to always be on the lookout for the fraudsters by asked them to present their identity cards indicating that they work for URA .
“Our officers move in only designated pickup double cabin vehicles with URA stickers. Someone who looks different from that is a fraudster.”