City traders ask URA to probe clearing agents over charges

Wednesday April 26 2017
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A traders goes about her business in Kampala.

Kampala. City arcade traders have asked Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to investigate circumstances under which clearing agents charge them big sums of money for clearing their consignment and paying taxes.
Clearing agents act for and on behalf of the tax payer in the clearing of goods and in doing so, they receive goods from the latter and declare them to the customs.
Talking to Daily Monitor, Kampala Arcade Traders Association (Kata) chairperson Godfrey Katongole, said majority of clearing agents who offer to pay taxes and clearing fees on behalf of traders tend to demand a lot of money.

“Many traders pay a lot of money in taxes and clearing fees through clearing agents because they don’t know what they are actually supposed to pay and at times they are never given receipts,” Mr Katongole said, adding that if traders are sensitised, they could start paying taxes directly to URA and hence avoid inflated charges by clearing firms.
URA spokesperson Vincent Seruma said URA gives licenses to clearing agents and that traders have a choice on who to deal with to have their consignments cleared.
“The problem is that taxpayers give agents money to clear and pay taxes they may never know how much tax was paid because they are never involved. With this suspicion, they are never satisfied, thinking that the agents inflated the tax fees and I think that’s where the problem is. But what I know is that clearing fees ranges from Shs300,000 and Shs500,000 depending on the size of the container,” he said.

He urged the traders to seek help from URA on how to pay taxes.
“Let them organise themselves and come to our offices so that we teach them how to pay taxes,” he said.
According to documents from URA, there are 287 licensed clearing firms. However, traders claim that there are many other firms which operate illegally and hence defraud them of their money to clear their goods.
0n March 2017, the Uganda Scientists, Researchers and Allied Workers’ Union petitioned Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, and URA chairman board of directors Simon Kagugube, to look into fraud, conflict of interest and non –compliance at URA.
In the letter, a copy of which Daily Monitor has obtained, researchers revealed that some clearing firms are owned by the officers of URA and that they are strategically registered to defraud government by paying undervalue taxes and with a motive of self-tax exemptions.

“…the purpose of this letter is to seek for your appropriate intervention to mitigate further irregular misconduct of some of the managers in the URA and restore confidence of the public and all relevant stakeholders,” reads part of the letter signed by Mr Robert Keno, the secretary of the Union.
On March 20 2017, Mr Kagugube responded to Mr Keno, assuring him that the matter would be investigated. “…I have requested the Commissioner General URA to investigate all the allegations contained in the above ethical related issues you have raised and present a comprehensive report to the board for consideration,” the letter states.

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