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Kenyan fish exporters decry extortion by Uganda cartels

Some Ugandan officials have come under the spotlight for allegedly extorting millions of shillings from traders exporting salted fish from Kenya to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

This is reportedly being done through cartels at the borders of Busia, Mpondwe, and Elegu.

Fish exporters say officials from the Busia border fisheries department of the Ministry of Agriculture in eastern Uganda and some at the Mpondwe border point in western Uganda, reportedly demand at least Shs31m from each truck to be allowed transit from Uganda to the DR Congo.

Failure by exporters to bribe the officials leaves the consignment impounded, and fictitious charges and hefty fines imposed on them.

Mr Hassan Omari, a Kenyan fish exporter at the Busia border, said in a well-orchestrated move, the officials had restricted the export of fish to only four companies, making it hard for Kenyans to transit their fish to DR Congo.

“We are simply using Uganda as a transit route for our fish to DR Congo; so, for a sister country to come up with a policy that our fish has to go through Ugandan companies amounts to interference with international trade,” Mr Omari said on Wednesday.

Formerly, he said, they have been paying Ushs6m as “hire fees” to the truck owner, which has now been raised to USh9.8m for each company truck, adding that company owners charge traders Shs8m for each consignment.

Ms Sarah Nabwire, another fish exporter who reportedly paid USh2m last December to get a fish export license from the MAAIF, said she has not received the permit to date and is being forced to use the four companies, which are charging high fees to hire out their trucks.

According to her, each time a trader has to export fish, they are forced to make payments of USh8m to the licensed company for each consignment of fish, while an extra USh9.8m is paid for hiring a truck from the very companies.

At the Busia border, Ms Nabwire claims USh3.5m is paid as a “clearance stamp”, while another USh5.2m is paid to a clearing agent to clear the fish consignment.USh1.5m is reportedly paid at Kikorongo Mpondwe border to “sort out” Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) officers and USh3.5m to “guard” the fish.

According to her, the cartel takes over Ushs31m from a single truck, which she says is their would-be profit and capital.
Maj Joseph Labu Cherop, an intelligence officer at the FPU, however, said he was not aware of any extortion by his team at Kikorongo. He promised to investigate the matter and get back with further details.

“If our officers are involved, that is news to me; I will interrogate this allegation and get back to you,” he said in a brief telephone interview.

Maj Cherop, however, asked this publication to provide the number plate of the trucks, which were reportedly impounded by FPU officers at the Kikorongo checkpoint.

This publication, which has withheld details of the truck for security purposes, established that the truck was impounded on April 21 on charges relating to lacking a license to transport fish. Three of its occupants, including the exporter, driver, and his turn man were detained.
The exporter told this newspaper that whereas the truck had a Kenyan license to transport fish, authorities reportedly impounded the consignment and paraded them before the court in Katwe where they were fined Shs1m.

To secure their freedom, he said they had to pay USh15m to unknown officials, through some women traders at Kikorongo.
Mr Seif Yusuf, another Kenyan fish exporter, said the four companies and 10 trucks licensed to transport fish either belong to top Ugandan officials based in Entebbe or are for cartels working closely with MAAIF officials.
 
The international customs law on goods under transit allows customs clearance formalities to take place at the point of destination.
In Uganda, goods under transit are cleared under the single customs territory agreement, implying that goods under transit are never subjected to any form of taxes and levies until they reach their final destination.

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