Illegal cross border deals thrive amid COVID-19 pandemic

Maracha – Security officers have been cited extorting and receiving bribes to aid smuggling and movements of traders across Uganda -Democratic Republic of Congo border, in defiance to presidential directives.

Maracha LC5. Chairperson, Adiga Lawrence Ozubia, on Monday, April 27 disclosed at the district COVID-19 taskforce meeting. He claimed to receive a report that a Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) officer extorted UGX500,000 to allow a Congolese businessman cross with goodS.

“Madam Chair, there is an issue. Members of this task force, there is an incident of violation of presidential directives.

“We all know that the head of the state His Excellency President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has given directives which we are to follow and officers implementing this are the police and the UPDF. But on the process of enforcement, Madam Chair, my office has learnt nasty things which I want this forum has to know. Things that I must mention in this meeting so that the officers responsible must be investigated.

The first one is an issue of accepting a bribe. It happened last week where my office received information that in Oleba sub-county, there were over ten bags of Silverfish belonging to Congolese national. The head of UPDF patrol soldiers connived with the owner who gave UGX500,000. The ten bags of the Silverfish were transported across the border from Malaba to Congo after the officer received the bribe” the district boss added.

Expressing displeasure, Ozubia says tendencies of corruption among security officers needs to be sorted out.

He intimates that the motorcycles used for smuggling the silverfish out of the. the country we’re brand new “SENKE’ type.

‘All the motorcycles which transported the silverfish were brand new SENKE’ type which were allowed to move freely without any question. You can investigate and inform us but we need to collaborate” the District chairperson added.

The second accusation of the district boss pinned the police officers manning check points.

” A lorry in Oluvu sub-County is reported to be ferrying fish from Panyimur in Nebbi district and passes with it to the Democratic Republic of Congo. But what we fail to understand is, we have police officers manning checkpoints and others deployed around, how does the Lorry manoeuvre it’s was through without a being interested?” District boss queried.

“Do we really mind about the lives of the people of Maracha and Ugandans at larger!” he wondered.

Maracha district chairperson also pinned another law enforcement officer of robbing an old woman caught at a local drinking joint of Ugx. 14,000.

“On Saturday, as the police officers were on routine patrol in the evening, they got an elderly woman, a widow, was selling waragi at Edeni village market. The woman took off after seeing the police officers and on the process, her “kitenge” dropped with UGX14, 000/- and a police officer grabbed the cash and left the kitenge.

Maracha district police commander, ASP Hirumbire Hassan talking to journalists after COVID-19 task force meeting.

This elderly woman is still crying because she doesn’t have any money to buy food” He narrated, requesting the district police commander, ASP Hiwumbire Hassan to trace the officer to recover the money.

The district chairperson comments that helping the old woman recover her cash would improve the image of the force among the community in Maracha district.

The DPC confirmed existence of bribery and extortion practices among some officers in the force, saying it calls for collective role play in trapping the culprits.

“Bribery and extortion, I know it is happening. The other time the Resident District Commissioner called, telling me that bribery has taken place at a certain area, people have been extorted at such a place but on the other side, please help me. All police officers have name tags. You have my contact, just call me whenever an officer demands money. We shall arrest this officer-involved and this will serve as an example to others” Hiwumbire said.

The Police chief also promised to investigate the case of the old woman who lost her cash during run away from police at a local drinking joint but warns the wanainchi against defying the rule of social distance at waragi parties.

“Am going to find out the officer who took the old woman’s money, that was out of hand. He must refund the money, but even that woman was wrong to sell waragi late in the evening and the people do not observe social distance and this is a risky factor in spread of COVID-19 pandemic” the DPC remarked.

Meanwhile, Maj. George Okello who commands Uganda Peiples Defense Forces (UPDF) unity in Maracha considers investigating the allegation.

He intimates that the community intelegence oversurps the military personnel on ground and nearby homesteads to the border prove headache to security operation.

“If at all an officer deployed at a duty point reluxes or is compromised, as the district chairperson has revealed, this gives me a room for investigation, however, homesteads nearby the border are giving us headache. They know all our programs and make calls to inform their colleagueas across, to alert them of our presence along the borders” he said.

He say the very people also make calls to political leaders to accuse law enforcement and security officers once they are intercepted.

The UPDF commander says the very people who help cross border smugglers also make calls to political leaders to accuse law enforcement and security officers once they are intercepted.

Maj. Okello revealed, the illicit traders have built a network that operates along the border stretching from Koboko accross Maracha to Arua. He notes the ilegal dealers have established secret depots at nearby shops which they use to empty the goods to DRC at night.

I heard they have Depots for storing silver fish in Oleba and in shops at the borders. But after filling the stores to capacity today, when you come the next day, the stores are empty and they tell you the silver fish is already sold. You wonder at what time they do the transaction” the UPDF officer said.

“About the truck passing across to Congo, I heard about it but when we tried to trace it’s movements, I think they noticed our presence through their intelligence and continued moving through Congo up to Lia on Arua side” Okello narrated how the smugglers evaded being arrested by keeping
travelling on the Congo side of the border,” Maj. Okello stressed.

He acknowledged that a reknown smugglers from Koboko is behind the covert ilicit deals accross the border.

“We have learnt that the vehicle belongs to a reknown smuggler in Koboko. All these headaches are caused by smugglers who are taking advantage to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown to hike their trade,”

But for Maracha Residen District Commissioner (RDC) Cherop Esther Soet, sons and daughters of the soil are equally involved in the fraudulent border deals. She links a criminal gang operating in the district, as other actors in extorting Congolese and receiving bribes from travelers along the border.

“Sons and daughters of Maracha District are also I solved. I was called with DPC and DISO only to find your son’s taking money from Congolese under the name security. They took Ugx. 3 millions” Cheroo disclosed with disclosing the identity of the suspects.

She says the criminal gang has taken advantage of COVID-19 pandemic to get riches by extortion money from Congolese and Ugandans at the border.

“People are using this time of COVID-19 pandemic to eat Congolese money” the RDC remarked, saying she has warned s security personnel at the border never to risk getting money to allow people to cross the border. She says the practice endagers lives of the people of Maracha and Uganda at large.

“I tell the security personnel not to pick Congolese money. Don’t kill the people of Maracha, don’t kill Ugandans” Cherop warned.

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