Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has acquired a device that customs officials can use to verify the source of imported rice, in an effort to combat tax evasion.
Recent reports have highlighted an increase in rice imports from various regions through Tanzania, taking advantage of the East African Community Common External Tariffs (EAC-CET).
The situation has led to truckloads of rice from Tanzania being held at the Mutukula border, amid suspicions that traders are importing mixed rice from different countries, including those outside the EAC. By declaring these imports as originating from Tanzania, importers can avoid the higher taxes designed to discourage imports from other regions.
As per the EAC-CET, the importation of rice from outside the EAC is subject to a 75 percent import duty, whereas rice from within the EAC enjoys a zero-rated duty.
Abel Kagumire, the URA Commissioner of Customs, revealed that a machine provided by the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) will now play a crucial role in verifying the origin of the rice, which will help in preventing misdeclaration and revenue loss.
Kagumire emphasized that this machine will also enhance efficiency by reducing the time required to clear imported rice.
He made these comments in response to complaints from importers regarding long delays at customs points, which were causing financial losses.
Katongole Godfrey, the Chairperson of the Kampala Arcades Traders Association (KATA), expressed concerns about their goods spoiling at the borders and urged for a swift evaluation process to ensure timely access to the markets.
Kagumire assured traders that rice lacking a stamp from the Tanzania Bureau of Standards would be subject to the necessary taxes, even if it is genuinely from Tanzania. Additionally, Tanzanian exporters without the required export licenses would also be liable for taxes.
John Rujoki Musinguzi, the URA Commissioner General, clarified that these measures aim to level the playing field and promote fair competition.
By the end of the previous week, most of the trucks were released after confirming that their products originated from Tanzania. However, 15 percent of the trucks were still held due to the transportation of mixed rice.
Musinguzi explained, “We conducted a thorough investigation to verify the rice’s origin. I’m pleased to report that 85 percent of these trucks have been released. Tests on the remaining 15 percent are ongoing as most of the rice has been mixed.”
The remaining truckloads will undergo further tests before a final decision is reached.
Kagumire also acknowledged that customs officials had held cargo for prolonged periods without valid reasons, attributing the situation to fraudulent practices by traders. He urged importers to declare their goods promptly to expedite the verification process.
Importers are required to possess a certificate of origin to confirm the country of origin of their rice imports.