Entebbe airport to expose corrupt staff

A traveller pushes a luggage trolley towards Entebbe airport terminal ahead of her travel last year. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The majority of the complainants alleged that even with an air ticket, a visa, a passport and all other travel documents, airport staff could still stop one from travelling or entering the country.

The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) will “soon” publish a list of former staff of service providers affiliated to Entebbe International Airport, who have been convicted of corruption and dismissed from service.
The regulator of the aviation industry in the country said in response to a growing concern about how travellers are being ripped off their hard-earned money at the airport that it had in the past terminated contracts and withdrawn access passes of errant staffers.

“Soon we shall publish a list of people whose security passes were withdrawn for engagement in such malpractices and banned from operating at the airport or on its behalf, in any way whatsoever,” Mr Vianney Luggya, the UCAA spokesperson, told this publication  yesterday.
Entebbe, the only international airport in the country, has over the last few days been at the centre of exposure shared by travellers who claimed have in the recent past been frustrated or ripped off by airport staffers. 
The majority of the complainants alleged that even with an air ticket, a visa, a passport and all other travel documents, airport staff could still stop one from travelling or entering the country.

“These guys’ main job is to make travellers miss their flights. Recently I missed a flight because I refused to give them $1,000 (about Shs3.7m) so they could allow me on the flight whose ticket I already had,” Donald Rugambwa shared on Facebook
In March last year, the State House Anti-Corruption Unit arrested three airport staff over abuse of office when they reportedly caused a refugee to miss her flight purporting that she had forged clearance documents from the Office of the Prime Minister.
Caroline Kabugo, a former shift supervisor, and immigration officers Martha Mboneko and  Julius Musalwa were arrested following a whistleblower’s report that they had fleeced the refugee of $1,800 (about Shs5m).

Following the public outcry, the industry regulator released a statement yesterday in which it admitted the existence of extortionists but blamed it on a string of service providers it does not have full control over.  UCAA facilitates operations at Entebbe airport in liaison with key service providers such as Immigration, ground handling agents, airlines, Ministry of Health, security agencies, customs, and the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development under its labour externalisation wing.
“UCAA does not in any way condone such acts and where such incidents have happened, it is highly regrettable and unacceptable,” the statement said.
Mr Michael Wakabi, an aviation expert, said it was only at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia among the regional airlines that he has never experienced the extortion .

“CAA as a regulator has no handle over its tenants such as security and immigration which are a beehive of graft. The handling companies and other service providers recruit their own people who may not always be up to scratch. The CAA needs to be given supreme powers at the airport,” he said.
The regulator said it was committed to continued engagement with all the airport service providers to take tough action on anyone found culpable of this vice, and also ensure that complaints are duly addressed to the satisfaction of the airport users.
Some of the clips shared on social media showed staffers lacking in basic customer care. Mr Luggya conceded that while it is the primary responsibility of the individual agencies to train their staff in all aspects, in order to bridge the gaps, “we also undertake regular sensitisation trainings in different areas.”

Amid the outpouring of emotions, it also emerged that travellers are sometimes asked to pay “airport clearance fee” of up to Shs400,000. But in a rejoinder to the press release, Mr Luggya said this is illegal.
“There is no such fee and that is why we encourage people to inform us immediately as soon as someone asks for any such fee so that the culprits are apprehended,” he said.
Airline travel is a tricky business for many owing to the strict flight schedules. Travellers have to be checked in at least one-and-a-half hours before their departure time. But faced with extortionist staff, who have mastered the art of delaying travellers, many find themselves vulnerable and end up yielding just to get cleared and avoid missing a flight.