Officials from the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) have come under the spotlight after being accused of allegedly abetting the smuggling of Kenyan salt into Uganda.
This website last week published an investigative article in which we revealed how salt known as ‘Kay Salt’, which is branded ‘For Sale Only in Kenya’ is being smuggled into Uganda across the porous borders, under the watchful eye of URA customs officials and UNBS scouts.
It should be noted that when our reporter brought the matter to the attention of the UNBS Executive Director Dr. Ben Manyindo, he noted that Kenyan Kaysalt branded with inscriptions ‘FOR SALE IN KENYA ONLY’ is illegally in Uganda and that he would soon workout a plan, together with URA, to impound the said salt wiped it off the Ugandan market.
Manyindo said that; “That salt shouldn’t be in our market, they’re misusing our brotherly East African Community (EAC) protocols on inter-community trade.”
He added that the first step was for UNBS to take the controversial salt to its laboratories for testing to see whether or not it is fit for human consumption, although the results are yet to be availed.
When our reporter contacted UNBS offices about the matter on Tuesday, a one Ms. Sylvia, who is the head of public relations, said that “I think early next week the MD himself will give you an update on the same, it’s better to get it from my boss,”
But in a bid to gather more information about the smuggling and how it is done, our investigative reporter drove to Busia border on Thursday, where he interacted with some URA and UNBS officials, who shocked him that Kay Salt has no problem being sold in Uganda, even it is marked ‘For Sale In Kenya Only’.
Edmund Rutebemberwa, the URA Acting Manager, Customs Eastern region, said that although the salt is branded for ‘For Sale In Kenya Only’, it has no problem as far as their mandate at the customs borders is concerned.
Rutebemberwa told our reporter that the salt was legally entering Uganda through their customs after the traders duly clearing all the taxes Uganda required of them.
He also argued that UNBS, according to URA customs officials, clears the said salt every time it arrives at the border, and therefore he couldn’t see why they (UNBS) are turning around to deny the same.
Rutebemberwa said that; “There’s what they call Cross Border Trade Association (CBTA). This is an Association that brings together small scale cross-border traders at the border points. These are legal people who are born at the borders or trade around there, both governments know them. They buy in small quantities until they consolidate enough stalks which they clear at once in trucks at the borders. Because we refused to clear them in smaller quantities, they had to mobilize to fill at least a trucks; so these are the trucks you’re talking about. They pass here and pay all the taxes before being allowed to leave the border.
He added that; “Mind you, when we’re clearing salt products, we don’t cluster them by names or brands; the lot is cleared as salt, period. Now if certain salt is branded in whichever way, we may not be obliged to read everything written on. However, there’s no way URA can pass out salt without the approval of UNBS, so I don’t know why this is coming up. There is a ‘tag’ used in our systems here that when you make an entry of a product, it will send a signal to other Gov’t agencies concerned with that particular product. The Government agencies we work with here include UNBS, NDA, AGRIC, among others. You can’t clear the product if the relevant agency hasn’t unlocked the ‘tag’….it’s kind of password protected. So in my understanding this salt is being cleared by relevant authorities.”
However, he admitted that there is possibility of some smugglers taking advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown during which URA had to scale down its staff by 30%.
Asked about some shrewd traders who clear a few goods legally, but after acquiring the paperwork, turn around and pass out more than they had cleared, by using the same papers, Rutebemberwa said that those are limited cases which cannot fail to be detected by the system.
“Just like any other criminality in society, there has never been a crime that was completely wiped out of society. Even God is still trying to minimize criminality among human beings! There are illegal immigrants even right now crossing the
Mediterranean Sea, is it a URA issue? You can only mitigate and fight crime; I will be lying to you if I told you that there’s zero smuggling at any country’s border point, that’s a lie. However, COVID-19 escalated the situation given the fact that we had to reduce staff and reduce on physical interactions,” he said.
He asserted that the traders of Kay Salt were duly paying their customs dues and as a result, URA has collected over Shs 722m from the said salt and other brands since January, which was a plus to the tax body.
“Between January and August, we’ve made 258 transactions of salt alone (all brands) and have collected shs722m so far from Busia border alone. All relevant taxes have been fully paid,” Rutebemberwa noted.
However, our investigative reporters have since landed on documentation linking Kay Salt dealers to a possible
evasion of import duty taxes by claiming that the salt is being manufactured in the EAC country-Kenya, yet it is actually imported from India.
This comes after our sources inside Kenya intercepted a cartel of a systematic movement of goods indicating that Kay Salt is imported from India to Kenya, where is rebranded and resold in Uganda in order to take advantage of the EAC trade protocol which exempts products whose materials are locally sourced and manufactured in any of the EAC countries from paying 25% duty
Economists in the country contend that this breeds unfair competition in the market, because Kay Salt prices are slightly lower than those of their competitors including Ugandan local brands since it by-passes some taxes.
This means that the dealers not only
create unfair competition but make billions of profits yet causing government billions of losses in unpaid taxes.
But while commenting about the same matter, Rutebemberwa said that; “No company can be forgiven a tax twice. If Kay Salt is importing from India, when it lands in Kenya, then Kenya must have collected that tax. For us here at the border when that salt arrives and wants to enter Uganda, they will pay our Ugandan taxes, Kenyan issues are handled in Kenya.
Remember, I told you it’s by small traders; now by buying in small quantities these traders will have already paid the tax at the Kenyan side and when it arrives at our border they again pay Ugandan taxes, according to our Ugandan rules.”
All that notwithstanding, it was noted that the acts of smuggling Kay Salt into Uganda undermine and abuse of East African Community (EAC) Inter-Trade Protocols (ITPs).
Besides that, our investigators were told by sources at the borders that a cartel of URA and UNBS officials at the border connive with traders to smuggle various goods into the country, including the controversial Kenyan Kay Salt, after wetting their beaks.
All this is going on a few months after President Yoweri Museveni fired top URA commissioners and staff over allegations of being involved in corruption.
His speech on June, 9, 2020 Heroes’
Day, Museveni warned about the rampant corruption and tax evasion in the country, which he said has made the country lag behind and frustrated government’s vision of attaining Middle Income status by 2020.
Districts Where Kay Salt Is Sold as part of the investigations, our reporter conducted a survey which revealed that Kay Salt is being sold in the following parts of the country;
Eastern Towns of Jinja, Iganga, Tororo, Mbale, Malaba and Busia borders. It is not only sold in border districts, but also in the popular Kampala markets of Kisenyi, Owino (St.Balikuddembe), where dealers distribute it to other parts of the country like Buwama, Masaka and Kasese and part of Western Uganda.
ISO Gets Involved In Investigation
We have since established that after this website publishing the article about Kay Salt, operatives from the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) picked interest in the matter after the same salt was donated to the COVID-19 National Task Force although it was later intercepted by security agents in Mukono District led by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Fred Bamwine.
Following the interception, Bamwine, said the Kay Salt was donated to the District COVID-19 Task Force by an undisclosed Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), although security operatives are investigating its source and quality.
“You see the security of a country doesn’t take health matters of its citizens lightly, security doesn’t look at certain issues in a pedestrian way. To an ordinary person this might not mean so much, but it’s different with us as security. Because what if there are other motives behind the supply, like poison? How do we explain that salt entered the country for a full year undetected?” Bamwine wondered.
He added that the Food Relief Committee led by the former Interpol Director in Uganda Police Force, Fred Yiga, discovered a seal on the salt ‘limiting its consumption’ to only Kenyans, which prompted an investigation into how it entered Uganda.
Watch this space for more details about this investigation.