By Herbert Ssempogo
Polythene bags strapped onto their bodies, and covered by clothes, the three women seemed like ordinary travellers. Were it not for “intelligence”, they could have successfully smuggled their items.
However, because of a tipster, the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) enforcement team at Busitema, Eastern Uganda, netted them.
Such is the smugglers’ ingenuity. They create hard-to-see compartments in buses, hide banned cosmetics under sand and in sacks containing matooke.
Ambulances and other government agency vehicles have severally been netted over smuggling. Despite the risk-arrest and prosecution, forfeiting goods and vehicles used, like all bad acts, somehow it continues to lure people.
It is most rampant in Eastern Uganda-Busia & Malaba, South Western-Mpondwe & Kasese, Southern-Mutukula and West Nile-Arua among other areas.
Top on list of most commonly smuggled goods is cigarettes, phones, rice, wheat flour and banned cosmetics due to harmful ingredients.
Surprisingly, out of ignorance, sometimes people smuggle items that tax exempt. For example, human drugs are smuggled from Kenya.
As it is with other offences, often we know the perpetrators. But we protect and or encourage them because we are beneficiaries.
This was evident in a recent Facebook post in which a woman boasted about her husband’s activities.
According to her, her husband was a habitual smuggler, crimes that made him rich. She boasted about his invincibility. Unfortunately, many women (the post was in a women’s group on Facebook) supported the man’s actions (smuggling).
Incidentally, those, who supported her, routinely comply with tax obligations directly or indirectly while the man was amassing wealth with no contribution to public goods-services arising from the collected revenue. Moreover, they could be proprietors, whose businesses are affected by the unfair competition caused by the smuggled goods. With no “levelled playing field” some businesses are ejected.
And worse still, they could be ‘consumers’ of the smuggled items like the banned cosmetics said to cause cancer due to hydroquinone and other harmful ingredients. Often, smuggled items are counterfeit and, therefore, not good to use.
From the foregoing, as is the case with other criminal activities, the public ought to work with the authorities including URA to arrest smugglers and prosecute them. This is because communities know them.
Merely looking on because smuggling does not affect you directly is defeatist. In the long run, one selfish person’s actions have a ripple effect on the perpetrators, beneficiaries and those who turned a blind eye.
As an institution mandated to collected revenue, URA is at the forefront in the fight against smuggling. Indeed, routinely, the aforementioned top most smuggled goods are impounded in enforcement activities across the country.
Enforcement is a dangerous activity as the criminals will do anything to avoid detection. This involves speeding and its attendant consequences and moving in the wee hours of the morning and at night.
However, the fight against the vice requires collective effort-informing authorities like URA about the people involved, their consolidation centres, means of conveyance (vehicles) and market. Additionally, we should not buy smuggled items for example cosmetics namely Coco Plus, Carol Light, Beautyon smuggled from Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Writer works for URA -Media Unit, Public & Corporate Affairs