Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has unveiled the Air Cargo Control Unit at Entebbe International Airport.
Located at the new cargo center at Entebbe Airport, the unit is the central office for officials from URA, Uganda Wildlife Authority(UWA) Aviation Police, Aviation Security, and Uganda Civil Aviation Authority-UCAA.
The team leader of the Unit is URA customs officer, Priscilla Mary Najjuma.
Other members of the unit are URA customs officer, Martin Olowo, Doreen Adongo from Aviation Police, Shilla Ampaire, an Assistant Warden for Intelligence at UWA, and Claire Kamugira from Uganda Civil Aviation Authority(UCAA)
Abel Kagumire, the Commissioner of Customs at URA opened the unit together with Sharon Nyambe, the Head of Uganda- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Office, and Nadia Cannata from the European Union Delegation in Uganda.
Najjuma told guests that UNODC, the World Customs Organization, European Union have facilitated training for officials in the unit and provided computers, furniture, and a handheld scanner to detect Illicit drugs at the cargo center.
She says the officials are ready to do work as a team, with support from their parent institutions so as to curb illicit trade and intercept victims and perpetrators of human trafficking.
She says the unit will do joint profiling of cargo and passengers to curb illicit trade by preventing trafficking in illicit drugs namely heroin, and cocaine, and avert smuggling of prohibited or controlled substances like wildlife trophies but also facilitate legitimate air cargo trade.
Government agencies have been conducting joint operations but have different reporting mechanisms, which will now be centralized at the unit.
Catherine Muyama, the Manager of URA Customs-Entebbe Region, says that URA has been working with UWA, police, Aviation Security officers, and other government agencies and ministries such as agriculture, health, National Drug Authority where necessary to detect, and inspect cargo at both the passenger Terminal Building and the cargo center.
Muyama says that their joint efforts resulted in the interception of wildlife products, and drugs among other prohibited or restricted items worth Shillings 11billion from 177 suspects last year.
She explains further that 40 passengers arriving from Entebbe International Airport were intercepted at three airports including New Delhi Aiport in India between September 2021 and April 2022.
“With the launch of this office, operations will be heightened to counter this crime,” Muyama says. Fiona Tubeine Nyamurungi, the Acting Assistant Commissioner Enforcement URA Customs, says there is a need for a more concerted effort from all government agencies and private sector players in air cargo and commercial passenger flights to curb illicit trade.
Sharon Nyambe, the Head of the Uganda office of UNODC, says Uganda’s reputation is at stake because of the interceptions at Entebbe Airport and other airports.
She hopes that the air cargo control unit officials and other government agencies will heighten operations at Entebbe Airport to curb illicit traders because the country is becoming a destination, source, and transit route for illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and wildlife animals and products such as pangolins, pangolin scales, and ivory among other items.
Nadia Cannata, Head of Section-Sustainable Development at the European Union Delegation to Uganda, agrees with Nyambe on the importance of joint operations and the need to curb demand for illicit materials and counterfeits.
Abel Kagumire, the Commissioner of Customs at Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), says that the volumes of imports through Entebbe International Airport increased by 58 percent from USD1.9billion to USD3.3 billion while export volumes grew by 39 percent from USD 2.3billion to USD 3.2billion in the financial years 2019/2020 and 2020/2021.
He, however, says the growth in the volume of exports and imports at Entebbe Airport has also seen an increase in illicit trade such as narcotic drugs, precursor chemicals, weapons of mass destruction, and wildlife products among others.
Kagumire says URA, UWA, and other government agencies have been conducting joint operations since 2015 when they recieved reports that several items and passengers including Ugandans had been intercepted in China, India, Cambodia, and Vietnam among others over illicit trade.
He calls on other agencies such as the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, and National Drug Authority to join and support the Air Cargo Control Unit.