Entebbe airport to shrink checkpoints

A woman pushes her luggage at Entebbe International Airport on October 1, 2020. PHOTO/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • After chilling accounts of corruption at Uganda’s solitary international airport were recently illuminated by the spotlight, responsible authorities have moved to scale down checkpoints at Entebbe.

The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) has moved to cut the red tape at Entebbe International Airport that has in the recent past seen it make headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Monitor understands that the number of checkpoints at Uganda’s solitary international airport will be whittled down to five from 12.
“UCAA analysed the concerns and worked with joint security to revise the number of checkpoints at EIA. The many checkpoints were causing delays and also the several interactions with many players was seen as a potential source of extortion from the public,” Brig Michael Kisame wrote in a March 10 brief to the Inspectorate of Government.

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Brig Kisame, a senior officer of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), was recently seconded to take charge of security at UCAA and Entebbe International Airport as the aviation security manager.

The checkpoints that have remained are: One manned by the police plus others manned by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and aviation police. Other holdup areas retained are the hold baggage checkpoint, the airlines check-in counters and the immigration counter.
We understand that UCAA has thrown the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and the Senior Presidential Advisor on Diaspora Affairs, Mr Abbey Walusimbi, out of Entebbe International Airport. 
Similarly, a plethora of desks that had been created, including one to validate and another to verify the vaccination statuses of travellers going through the airport, have been closed.
  “The yellow fever validation desk, verification of yellow fever by port health and operations of the office diaspora /office of the president [desks] were suspended in early February 2023 and security permits withdrawn,” Brig Kisame revealed.

Conflicting accounts
 There are conflicting accounts about the circumstances under which the aviation regulator, which manages Entebbe International Airport as well as a host of civilian airports and aerodromes, brought down the curtain on the operations of the aforesaid desks.
Mr Martin Wandera, a commissioner in the Labour ministry, told Monitor that the external labour desk—which had been formed to verify whether those who would be leaving the country as labour exports had been cleared by the line ministry—was closed following a rationalisation process.
“The desk was not closed. We rationalised roles in order not to have very many people and different agencies [doing the same things],” Mr Wandera revealed, adding, “We agreed that immigration, which is responsible for exit, can take over that role [of clearing workers] and [the] Labour [ministry] concentrates on its labour work. So we handed over our role, even on the external labour management system to immigration.”

Cleaning up?
This publication has, however, established that the decision to remove the external labour desk was part of efforts by UCAA to burnish Entebbe International Airport both literally and metaphorically. This followed widespread allegations of corruption.
In January, multiple videos of Ugandans complaining about cases of harassment—including hooking people off planes, removing travel documents and extortion of travellers who use the airport—went viral on social media platforms
The external labour desk of the Labour ministry was caught in the eye of the storm, with most travellers accusing its staff of being masterminds behind the illegal acts. It was alleged that some of the illegal acts resulted in some people missing out on their flights.
The viral videos—most of which were populated on Twitter and TikTok—triggered a public furore that compelled the ombudsman to launch an investigation.
Monitor has learnt that UCAA also launched a parallel investigation headed by Brig Kisame. We understand that it was that internal investigation that culminated in the decisions to throw the litany of check-out desks from the airport and slap a suspension on operations of the yellow fever desks.

External labour desk
 According to the brief to ombudsman Beti Olive Kamya, whereas the Labour ministry had established the external labour desk for purposes of clearing migrant workers, including those under labour externalisation companies, staff on the desk were abusing their powers.
 “It was found out that aviation police and labour officers were withdrawing travel documents such as passports from migrant workers on excuse of human trafficking or lack of clearance from labour instead of guiding victims of the legal requirements,” Brig Kisame divulged.

Elsewhere, inside sources at UCAA told Monitor that Mr Walusimbi, who opened the presidential advisors’ desk at the airport, failed to explain its terms of reference or what it was meant to achieve.
“He simply told UCAA that it was in line with the president’s idea on externalisation of labour, but he did not have any clear terms of reference. We thought it best that he leaves the airport,” our source said.
Mr Walusimbi was not readily available for a comment.

Mr Vianney Luggya, the UCAA’s public affairs’ manager, told this publication that—during their stay at the airport—labour agencies had withdrawn passports from travellers. The passports, he added, have since been handed over to the immigration directorate.
Brig Kisame’s brief, which described the withdrawal of passports by the labour agencies as illegal, made clear that only Immigration is mandated to crack the whip in such a manner as per the Citizenship and Immigration Control Act. We understand that 192 passports were handed over to the responsible authorities.
The spotlight also illuminated the ills around offloading passengers.
“Some migrant workers were offloaded under unclear circumstances even when they had passed immigration,” Brig Kisame noted.
UCAA has now directed that whereas airlines reserve the right to hook people off flights in line with flight safety and security destination requirements, passengers shall generally not be hooked off planes once they are past the immigration desk. The caveat is unless special permission and clearance has been sought and granted.

Yellow fever
Sources at UCAA indicated that the decision to suspend the yellow fever desk was arrived at in light of the fact that it was being abused.
“It was realised that the staff there were in some cases demanding for yellow fever vaccination certificates from even travellers headed to destinations that do not require one to be vaccinated against yellow fever,” our source revealed, adding, “That usually resulted in money changing hands.”
In light of the decision to scrap the yellow fever desk, verification of the yellow fever vaccination status of passengers in line with travel destinations requirements was passed on to staff at airline counters.

Tours of duty
UCAA has in the same breath recommended that security agencies and the immigration directorate introduce tours of duty for their members of staff stationed at the airport. 
The recommendation is premised on the belief that chains that facilitate corruption are built once members of staff are deployed at the same duty stations for long periods of time. This is believed to engender corruption.
The report also recommends enhancement of salaries for immigration staff. It is believed that they are attempting to take bribes because of the meagre salaries they get.
IGG investigation
 In a related development, the spokesperson of the Inspectorate of Government, Ms Ali Munira, told this publication that the office has been concentrating on finding out what has been fuelling corruption at the airport.
“We want to go deeper into the issues that actually breed corruption. We actually had a meeting with all the people who work at the airport so that we understand how they operate. We shall then come up with recommendations on how to improve the operations there,” Ms Munira revealed.

Entebbe Airport check-in area: dos and don’ts
According to the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA)’s official website, the check-in area at the country’s only international airport in Entebbe is nestled on the departure’s floor. 
 As per the website, check-in desks open three hours before flight departure. During the process, passengers are expected to confirm their respective flight, obtain a boarding pass, possibly and check in luggage onto a plane if desired. Two items are listed as necessities to furnish the check-in counter.  They include: a passport, paper ticket or confirmation number of an online ticket.
UCAA reveals on its website that “there is no customs desk on departure at Entebbe International Airport.”

It adds: “Departing passengers are required to present a valid passport or other travel document and completed departure embarkation card to the immigration officer. The officer will ascertain that the traveller obtained the relevant visa .The travel document is duly stamped and returned to the passenger.”
It concludes: “Passengers then proceed to the departure-transit concourse for duty-free shopping and refreshments. After the final security formalities, passengers get into the holding-area where one can ascertain their belongings, tickets, passports, traveller checks, etc. At all the stages, airport staff are on hand to provide needed information or desired service.”


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