GULU – Uganda and South Sudan customs’ authorities have signed a Memorandum of Understanding – MoU – to strengthen the fight against the smuggling of fuel and cigarettes through the porous border.
The agreements were signed on Wednesday at Elegu Town Council in Amuru district where officials from the neighbouring countries held a bilateral meeting in regard to cross-border trade.
The development follows concerns from the Uganda Revenue Authority – URA on the growing vice of smuggling fuel and cigarettes from South Sudan into the West Nile region and Amuru district.
The major smuggling routes, according to URA are porous areas along Oraba border point in Koboko district, which borders South Sudan’s Kaya Town, and Elegu in Amuru district bordering Nimule Town.
Abel Kagumire – the Commissioner of Customs at URA said that the tax body was losing billions of shillings in uncollected revenue from smugglers ferrying fuel in jerry-cans into the country. He particularly, pointed at Oraba border in Koboko district where fuel smuggling was on the rise due to instability in the neighbouring Kaya Town in Central Equatorial state.
Kagumire said that due to the vice that has negatively impacted revenue collection and business of fuel stations, authorities from both countries had agreed on a joint surveillance team – on working to fight illegal cross-border trade.
Maj Gen Gathon Jual Riek – the acting Commissioner of Customs in South Sudan’s National Revenue Authority said the vast porous borders coupled with insecurity in some areas had rendered surveillance impossible.
He however noted that with the MoU in place, the two customs authorities backed by security would intensify their operations against smugglers to end the vice along the South Sudan-Uganda border point.
The leaders from the two neighbouring countries also resolved to share information regarding customs operations as well as extending working hours at Nimule from 4:00pm to 7:00pm. Other resolutions included the need to build the capacity of customs staff at the Nimule border and the implementation of a single customs territory.
In November last year, URA enforcement team recovered over 1,000 litres of petrol in Yumbe district, smuggled into the country from South Sudan.
In a related development, the South Sudan government has committed to fight its security as well as immigration personnel – who reportedly extort and harass cargo truck drivers.
The commitment followed a two-day cargo truck drivers’ striker at the Uganda-South Sudan border town of Elegu in Amuru district.
The drivers accused South Sudan immigration officials of levying exorbitant taxes on vehicles entering and exiting their country, harassment, as well as impromptu check-points along the Nimule-Juba highway targeting heavy truck motorists.
On Wednesday, both Uganda and South Sudan security, customs, and immigration officials held an impromptu bilateral meeting in a bid to address the driver’s grievances, shortly after the strike was officially called-off. The meeting was held at Elegu One-stop border point in Elegu Town Council.
Maj Gen Gathon Jual Riek – the Acting Commissioner of Customs in South Sudan’s National Revenue Authority conceded at the meeting that 70 per cent of the drivers’ complaints were true – pledging to sort of the mess.
He revealed that his government had taken measures in cracking down on officers who erect illegal roadblocks with a view of extorting money from the drivers along the route.
The truck drivers’ strike that started on Monday ended on Tuesday afternoon following the intervention of Ugandan authorities after realising that protests were affecting business.
Additional reporting by URN