Continued smuggling in West Nile worries URA as it loses billions

Sunday September 19 2021
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The Resident City Commissioner for Arua City, Mr Alice Akello (C), speaks during the URA baraza on EFRIS in Arua on Saturday. PHOTO / FELIX WAROM OKELLO

By Felix Warom Okello

The increasing cases of smuggling in the West Nile region are worrying the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) as the authority is losing billions to tax evasion.

For decades, URA, a body charged with collecting taxes for the country, has been engaged in running battles with smugglers across the West Nile region. The vast sub-region with numerous porous borders has made it difficult for URA to curb the vice.

On Saturday, during the baraza on Electronic Fiscal Receipting and Invoicing Solution (EFRIS) at Heritage Courts in Arua District, the Customs Supervisor, Mr Alex Murungi, said: “Our main problem now is to get the fuel smugglers off the streets because fuel is highly inflammable and this is a great security threat. When it bursts accidentally one day, it can cause a big problem to Arua Town.”

He said they are losing huge sums of money with smuggling business that is now a source of livelihood for many youths. 

“You chase the smugglers this side, on the other side they call their colleagues and disappear before we could reach. Like in Odramacaku, it is difficult to arrest smugglers or impound fuel from them because people they are hostile to us. Collecting tax should not be a confrontation,” Mr Murungi added.

EFRIS is an initiative under the Domestic Revenue Mobilization Program whose aim is to address the tax administration challenges relating to business transactions and issuance of receipts. It enables business men and women file their returns electronically. 

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According to a URA recovery report on smuggled goods earlier this year, the authority loses between Shs500 million to Shs1billion a month to smuggling across the West Nile region.

 A section of youth in the sub-region smuggle fuel, cooking oil, rice and cigarettes from the neighboring DR Congo where there is little control at the borders. 

Vehicle and motorcycle owners opt for fuel from the smugglers because it is sold at a lower price of Shs 3,700 as compared to what is sold at fuel stations which costs Shs 4,200 per litre. This has opened the market and attracted more youths to earn for survival.

 The Arua business community chairperson, Mr Moses Obeta, said URA should devise means of countering the said smugglers, in a rather friendly way to avoid confrontations and brutality. 

“This region is full of small and medium traders who earn little money for survival. You need to be friendly to the traders and also do not brutalise the smugglers because we all need the tax to develop this country,” he said.

 Mr Obeta said there was a need for URA to sensitise the communities through barazas especially those at the border, so that they can understand the importance of paying tax.

 The Resident City Commissioner (RCC) for Arua City, Ms Alice Akello, said the porous borders along DR Congo and South Sudan have facilitated the smuggling business, which has made it difficult for the thin enforcement staff for URA to manage.

“Tax evasion is sin. Our people should not be selling fuel on the streets like someone selling maize. People should not be forced to pay tax and this should be voluntary because tax started way back in the biblical times. It is the obligation of citizens to abide by that.”

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