Thursday April 10 2014

Middlemen who reap where they do not sow

 

By ESTHER OLUKA

Cunning middlemen or women have made it their business to take advantage of people’s desperate situations to rip them off. They offer to ease the burden of getting a service at a fee.

Consequently, they thrive on colluding with either people inside the system, and make public services hard to access for anyone who is not willing to part with a bribe. Deal with them at your peril.
These middlemen position themselves strategically inside or outside buildings where those services are rendered. Then, they will suddenly ambush anyone who is making their way to the premises by stopping and asking them all sorts of questions.

Once the person responds to their random question(s), they make their next move. They will say they can help out and in the shortest time possible.
Of course, their services are not for free. They will tell the person to pay up a desired amount of money as quickly as possible.
However, not all of these scheming individuals position themselves in premises. Others have chosen to advertise their services on other platforms such as social media mostly Facebook, brochures and posters.
Here are some of the places these middlemen and women are known to position themselves as they wait for clients:

Ministry of Internal Affairs
They do not stand in one place but rather roam about the main road scrutinising who is making their way to the offices and who is coming out.
“I fear my services to be jeopardised and that is why I do not just approach people out of the blue. What if I approach someone who is a policeman and then he arrests me? ” says Bass Muganzi, Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), who alleges to offer services to people who need passports in the shortest time possible.

I found him standing next to a white corona car that was packed adjacent to the gate of the ministry of internal affairs offices.
As much as some of these middlemen and women may be applauded by certain members of the public for speeding up the process of acquiring a passport, others have regrets for having dealt with them in the past. This has been for mostly reasons that they were defrauded.

One such person is a 28-year-old trader, Priscilla Adong.
Adong says she had heard of several stories from several people about the lengthy process of acquiring a passport from the Internal Affairs Ministry offices.
The mother of one says she did not want to pass through the same kind of hardship in order to attain one. So, she got someone, a man identified as Kafuuko, who claimed that he could get her the passport within a week. Kafuuko had also been positioning himself outside the Internal Affairs Ministry offices as a middleman who could help out anyone who wanted a passport in the shortest time.
“I gave him Shs450,000 since I wanted him to work on two passports. One was mine and the other for my 10-year-old daughter,” Adong says.

After a week elapsed, she tried calling Kafuuko up for an update but his phone number was off. She even visited the office where he had claimed to work only to find another occupant who had never seen or heard about him.
“When I shared this piece of information with my older sister, she said I was so stupid and naive for having accepted to hand over that large amount of money to a complete stranger,” says Adong.

Ms Pamela Ankunda, the Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, cautions members of the public against dealing with such people because of the tendency they have of extorting money from people.
“On numerous occasions, we receive cases of people narrating incidents where they have paid a large sum of money to someone to acquire a passport and that the person has suddenly vanished,” Ms Ankunda says.
She advices those who need passports to always follow the right procedure by not relying on middlemen who are always after making quick money by exploiting people.

Amamu house
Another likely place one is bound to bump into such individuals is at Amamu that has the offices of the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB). The agency among others registers business names, companies, business documents, intellectual property like trademarks, patents, copyrights, birth and death certificates.

Last Monday, during afternoon hours when I visited the premises, I came across a smartly dressed woman wearing a knee-length black dress with a cream blazer accompanied with a pair of high black shoes. She was standing beside the rails of one of the staircases within the building.
“Are you going to register for any document?” she asked.
When I told her no but was instead going to see someone within the building, she dished out a white business card which contained only her name and a phone number.

“In case you need assistance processing any document mostly birth and death certificates, just call me. I will ensure that you have it within a few days,” the lady said handing me her business card.
Provia Nangobi, the Senior Public relations Officer at URBS does not deny the existence of such middlemen and women whom she calls “corridor” people.
She says some of these “corridor people” after obtaining money from an individual, go somewhere else such as on Nkrumah Road where they counterfeit the document.

“A client will only get to realise later probably while assessing the document that it is actually fake and not genuine,” she says.
Nangobi says they have put strong measures in place to try and eradicate these “corridor” people.
“We have posters pinned all over the building informing our clients of the processes they need to follow if they want to obtain a particular document,” Nangobi said. She adds that there is also an inquiries desk right at the entrance on the ground floor where one of their staff sits to guide clients around the offices.
Her advice to clients is to always follow the right procedures in order to avoid being cheated by the imposters.

At schools
There are parents who will do everything within their power to ensure their children study at a prominent school. This is irrespective of the fact that their son or daughter did not get the required points to join the particular school.
Some of these people negotiate deals within the school itself. They could be school staff members themselves. Then, there are those who stand outside schools, especially during the time parents are hunting for vacancies for their child(ren).

“They normally claim that they know the big people in the school and they can easily connect you to them, that is, if you are willing to pay them a certain amount of money,” says Brenda Nakubugo whose 17-year-old daughter studies at a prominent boarding school in Wakiso district.

The money lenders
They advertise their services on posters that they paste at various points such as universities and hospitals.
One of the posters that I came across at Mulago hospital read, “In need of a quick loan, call these numbers quick and we shall come to your rescue.” The poster had two phone numbers whose figures had, however, been altered using a red marker.

Joshua Katai, a former money lender now turned shopkeeper says some of these money lenders who advertise their businesses are simply fraudsters who use various tricks to make off with valuable properties of individuals.
“They are very smart people. They can give you a loan of Shs300,000 and as a security guarantee, they will ask for probably your laptop or mobile phone which might have cost more money,” Katai says.
He adds that there are even those who after lending the money and getting security guarantee from a client decide to disappear.
“They will either switch off their mobile phone or relocate to some other unknown destination,” says Katai.

At law courts
A lawyer who preferred to speak on anonymity reveals that a simple filing of court papers in some of the courts necessities an additional fee for the clerks above the official filing fees or else a lawyer risks resentment which will lead to unnecessary delays in the procession of a client’s case.
He narrates his experience at a court in Wakiso District where he had filed pleadings and the clerk who received the papers decided to deliberately toss him up and down.

“He told me to pick them three days later but when I showed up, he told me to go back after another three days,” the lawyer recalled.
It was not until an office clerk who was more familiar with the court’s bureaucracy told him that if he wanted the services quickly, he needed to do the “needful” (bribe the clerk).
Therefore, what he has resorted to doing is that whenever he is charging a client, he has to factor in the cost of the clerks and a host of other administrative staff in courts of law and other various offices like land offices and the registration bureau.

At Uganda Revenue Authority (URA)
On a Thursday afternoon, this reporter camped outside the URA offices after going through the security checkpoint. URA used to be hotbed of middlemen. However, on this particular day, everyone seemed to mind their own business moving hastily from one office to another with either white documents or brown envelopes in their hands. Those who were standing at the different places outside the offices were either talking on phone or chatting with someone else.
The Assistant Commissioner Public and Corporate Affairs at URA, Sarah Banage, says there are various measures that are in place that limit such individuals from aimlessly wandering about the premises.

“Besides the tight security that we have, our different work stations are also clearly labelled. So, when someone comes to this place and wants to visit a particular office, they know exactly where to go,” Banage says.
She adds that there are also several banks within the vicinity that enable individuals conduct money transactions easily without leaving the place.

At City Hall
At Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), there have been reported claims of individuals who parade at the premises with the aim of extorting money from those who want yellow fever cards, a requirement needed to travel to certain countries.
Peter Kauju, the KCCA spokesperson says with the help from police, they have actually arrested and interrogated some people who have been involved in the scam.

“This is why everyone needs to be on the lookout. If you want a yellow fever card, just visit the clinic at city hall, pick up the forms and go to the bank and pay the Shs50,000 which includes bank charges. Afterwards, come to the clinic where you will be vaccinated and given your yellow fever card,” he says.

Job offers
On numerous occasions, several media outlets have reported stories of women who are promised juicy jobs abroad but in the long run end up getting lured into prostitution.

Many of these girls have probably been unemployed for many years. Then, they imagine that their lives will change for the better after meeting someone who promises to get for them a good job abroad.
Ibin Ssenkumbi, the former Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesperson, says police has on numerous occasions arrested men and women with fake agencies involved in recruiting these girls.

“They promise them well-paying jobs abroad but when these girls are taken there, they end up either being dumped there or used as sex slaves,” Ssekumbi says.
Ssenkumbi adds that about 90 per cent of these exiting agencies are illegal.

Quack doctors and nurses
“There are people who go and masquerade in various public and private hospitals as doctors and nurses and yet they are not,” says Dr Katumba Ssentongo, the registrar of the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council.
Ssentongo says such imposters go to these institutions because of the many desperate people who are always willing to do anything in order to attain services of a medical practitioner.

Other individuals, he says, even go the extent of setting up private clinics and yet they lack any medical field experience.
“Not only do they end up using wrong medication for treating those who go to seek their services but also they use that opportunity for extorting a lot of money from them,” he says.

How to verify
In order to confirm the legitimacy of a medical practitioner, Ssentongo recommends patients to use the SMS validation format.
“You type doctor (space) name of the doctor and afterwards send to 8198 or nurse (space) name of the nurse and afterwards send to 8198,” he says.
He says all the medical details of either the doctor or nurse will then be received in one’s inbox. If the message reads that the medical practitioner is not registered, Ssentongo advises a patient to seek the health services elsewhere

eoluka@ug.nationmedia.com

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