By Spy Uganda Investigations Team
Kampala: In our previous exclusive stories, we reported here and quoted how Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) Executive Director Dr.Ben Manyindo ùcategorically stated that Kenyan Kaysalt brand with inscriptions ‘FOR SALE IN KENYA ONLY’ was illegally in Uganda and that he would soon workout a plan, together with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) on how it can be impounded and whipped out of the market as soon as yesterday. “That salt shouldn’t be in our market even yesterday, they’re misusing our brotherly EAC protocols on inter-community trade,” Manyindo was quoted saying last week.
However, Manyindo was quick to add that the first step they would take as a standards enforcement arm of Government would be to subject the controversial salt to its laboratory test, although this reporter is yet to get the results. “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,” UNBS’ head of public relations Ms.Sylvia told our reporter on Tuesday when asked about whether the results were out.
Now, as we promised earlier in our previous editions on this article that our investigative team was still on ground, this time round, in a bid to get the clear view from URA’s team on ground, our investigative reporter Andrew Irumba drove to Busia border on Thursday to get it from the horse’s mouth. According to Edmund Rutebemberwa, acting Manager, Customs Eastern region, the said salt, although branded for ‘For Sale In Kenya Only’, it has no problem as far as their mandate at the customs borders is concerned. Edmund told our reporter that the salt was legally entering the country through their customs after duly clearing all the legal taxes Uganda needs from them. As if that wasn’t enough, Edmund also argued that UNBS, according to them (URA), clears the same salt every time it arrives at the border, and therefore couldn’t see why they’re turning around.
By their primary mandates, UNBS is responsible for quality assurance and enforcement of the same whereas URA is responsible for collection and enforcement of taxes.
“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 to clear at once in trucks at the borders, because we refused to clear them in smaller quantities, they had to now mobilize to make at least trucks, so these are the trucks you’re talking about. They pass here and pay all the taxes and pass,” Edmund explained.
He continued thus: “Mind you, when we’re clearing salt, we don’t claster them by names or brands, the lott 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. Gov’t 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 passworded. So in my understanding this salt is being cleared by relevant authorities,” he added.
Meanwhile, just like UNBS, the URA customs boss couldn’t also rule out the possibility of some smugglers taking advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown where URA too had to scale down its staff by 30%.
Watch Acting General Manager Customs Eastern Region Edmund Rutebemberwa.
When asked to comment on reports which suggest that some ‘smart’ traders clear a few goods legally, but after acquiring the paperwork, they now turn around and pass out more than they cleared, by using the same papers.
“Just like any other criminally in society, there has never been a crime that was completely wiped out of society. Even God himself is still trying to minimize! There are illegal immigrants even right now crossing 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.
To the contrary, Edmund said they had collected over 722 millions from the controversial 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,” he said.
Meanwhile, this website has independently accessed documentations linking Kaysalt brand to a possible evasion of import duty taxes by claiming that the salt is being manufactured in the EAC country-Kenya.
Our investigations at the border and inside Kenya intercepted a cartel of a systematic movement of goods whereby Kaysalt materials are imported from India to Kenya, thereafter branded as a Kenyan product before its put on market 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 tax.
This, according to sources, has led to unfair competition, whereby Kaysalt prices are slightly cheaper than other brands on market including Ugandan local brands because it by-passes some taxes, hence not only creating unfair competition, but also causes billions of money in losses to Ugandan Gov’t.
Edmund responded thus; “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 yet when it arrives at our border they again pay Ugandan taxes, according to our Ugandan rules,” he said.
What Our Investigations Led Us To:
Ever since TheSpy Uganda unearthed the smuggling of Kenya’s Kaysalt into Uganda, acts which undermine and abuse East African Community (EAC) Inter-Trade Protocols (ITPs), our on ground fillers have continued to dig mind boggling findings in regards to smuggling of goods at the borders.
Despite President Museveni’s gospel about Buy Uganda, Build Uganda (BUBU) policy, if our findings are to go by, then Uganda still has hundreds of miles to attaining this reality, otherwise it may remain a fantasy.
Our investigators who are camping at different borders, were told by the sources also at borders that a cartel of Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) customs [field] staff, connive and smuggle various goods including the now controversial Kenyan Kaysalt into Uganda after being bribed with ‘Kitu Kidogo’ that is less than the fixed amount of taxes an importer is supposed to pay and those who refuse to buy their way, their goods are taxed the normal fixed tax amounts.
But remember all these are going on even after President Yoweri Museveni, the Commander-in-Chief (CiC) of all the armed forces in Uganda cautioned URA officials while giving his speech on June, 9, 2020 Heroes’ Day, warning about the rampant corruption and tax evasion in the country something that has actually lagged behind Ugandan economy hence failure of government’s dream of moving into middle income state by 2020 as was projected.
Despite Museveni cracking a whip at URA, our investigators have continuously revealed that there is still ‘hard-core deaf-like Kawuukumi’ [weevils] especially among customs officials at Uganda’s porous borders, who aide tax evasion without considering the responsibilities government trusted them with that include formulation, promotion of the use of, and the enforcement of standards in protection of the environment, public health and safety duty by UNBS, and the national tax body, URA which is the overall customs watchdog which have ended up becoming conduits for smugglers.
Top on the list of products being smuggled into Uganda under the watchful eyes of UNBS and URA customs staff is Kaysalt, which is clearly and boldly marked with ‘For Sale In Kenya Only’, although it has since circulated all over Uganda and flooded all popular Ugandan markets sold at a relatively cheap price with an aim of ousting other brands.
Our investigative team on ground tracked it down and saw large quantities of smuggled Kaysalt in Eastern Towns of Jinja, Iganga,Tororo,Mbale,Malaba and Busia borders and not only at border districts, but also big and multi million stocks have been sighted in popular Kampala markets of Kisenyi, Kampala Owino (St.Balikuddembe), where traders have started distributing it to all regional districts like central Buwama, Masaka and Kasese in Western Uganda.
In addition to the above, the funny part of it is that the shyless smugglers of the untaxed salt have not only sold it in Uganda illegally but also donated it to the COVID-19 Task Force, although was later intercepted by security agents in Mukono area led by the area RDC Fred Bamwine.
Fred Bamwine, the Mukono Resident District Commissioner (RDC), said Kaysalt was donated to the District COVID-19 Task Force by an undisclosed Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), and has since picked interest on its source, quality and intentions. “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 said.
Bamwine noted 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 them to withhold it as they carry out investigations into how it reached Uganda.
After TheSpy Uganda published an article in regard to the above matter, the Internal Security Organization (ISO) as the government’s counter intelligence agency responsible for providing national security intelligence to policy makers and engaging in covert activities at the request of the President, picked interest and have since started investigations into the same matter.
Last week, UNBS ED Dr.Ben Manyindo had hinted on taking stern actions against the alleged smugglers, we now wait to see how this unfolds on his side and we will bring you up to speed on the same. Watch this space for more updates on this..….!