Some of my relatives live in the UK. Recently, one of them sent me a package through an international courier operating in Uganda. I have utilised the services of this company for many years. I have always used the office of the Uganda Golf Club of which I am a member and a trustee, and named Ms Margaret Businde, who is a senior administrator of the club, as recipient.
The system has worked until Monday, January 21, when hell broke loose. That morning, one of the company employees telephoned and informed me that my package from the UK had just arrived and I should go and fetch it, but take with me $25 to pay tax on it.
The man was lying because I have always received my packages from the UK since the 80s without payment. The rule is that when you wish to send items, you present them in an open package. The courier’s office physically examines each item, weighs the package and assesses the taxes payable which are paid there and then before the courier repacks the items in their own materials.
The courier then asks for the address and the name of the person to receive it. It is always the sender to pay the charges, taxes and everything else payable in the sender’s country. When the package arrives to its destination it is delivered by the courier to the designated physical address without any extra charges or costs.
On Tuesday morning, I called the office and a woman, who refused to disclose her name, answered. I repeated what I had told the male officer. She said that her colleague was mistaken but the parcel indicated that I should pay Shs25,000!
I told her that I am not willing to pay any extra charges unless the courier could show that either the rules or the law had changed within several weeks because in December I had received a large parcel full of Christmas goodies from the same sender without the courier demanding any payment.
On the same day, another man called me and disclosed that he was from the courier and had heard that I had a problem about a package allegedly sent from the UK. Following the discussion between me and him, he agreed that I was right. He undertook to ask them to apologise to me in writing and ensure that copies of the apology are given to their bosses at the courier. Nevertheless, he confirmed that I owed the company Shs25,000!
Very late the same day, a lady called me and said she was a senior officer at the company and she had heard the story about the package from the UK. She then offered to pay the taxes on it on my behalf and deliver my package at the Golf Club together with the receipt of what she will have paid.
On January 30 when the parcel was delivered, Margaret, rather agitated, telephoned and said that someone from the courier has called her demanding payment of Shs25,000!
On the February 1, Margaret sent me the so-called receipt without the letters of apology from the courier. With regards to the payment receipt there is no evidence that the female officer paid anything on my behalf. However, I received a Uganda Revenue Authority declaration form stamped on January 30 indicating that it was an assessment notice for Import Duty plus Value Added Tax and Withholding Tax in the sum of Shs25,424.
I have not imported anything at all into Uganda. It is absurd that dollars demanded by the first officer turned into shillings. It is also absurd that I should be charged at all for health items sent by my relative. Incidentally, the URA declaration does not show the quantities and variation or purpose for charging me these taxes.
Several days later, the courier’s office in the UK telephoned my relative saying it was urgent because the parcel they had sent to Prof Kanyeihamba in Uganda had taxes owing on it. My relative got very concerned that I should have to pay again when she had already paid in the UK and was told that there were no extra pending charges in Uganda.
She stormed the UK office and demanded to know why. The office promised to instruct the Ugandan office to refund any money their Uganda office wrongly received and promised to apologise by February 5. But they are conspicuously silent. So if I cannot trust couriers, then who can I trust?