Uganda Revenue Authority has underscored the need for inter–agency co-operation and international co-operation for essential protection of certain species of wild fauna and flora against over-exploitation through international trade that are poached for their body parts.
This need was stressed by Abel Kagumire, the Commissioner for Customs at URA at the Nakwa headquarters on Tuesday as the Authority handed over a total of 7,421Kgs of wildlife items that included 6,616.45kgs of ivory, Pangolin scales 766.35kgs, Hippo teeth 11.1kg, three python skins, one lion skin, two jars of a lion, 20 buffalo horns, and a head of a python to Uganda wildlife Authority for safe custody, that were seized by URA between 2018-2021.
In addition to the other traditionally known roles of Customs, has the duty and responsibility to enforce the national, regional and international laws that either restrict or prohibit Trade in endangered species as prescribed in the CITES convention.
This duty is executed in close coordination at strategic, tactical and operational level with other Government Agencies, which include Uganda Wildlife Authority, National Forest Authority, and the Security Agencies.
In a bid to strengthen inter-agency coordination, a JPCU was established by a cooperation framework signed in the year 2015, with the assistance of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
This consists of Uganda Police Force, Uganda Wildlife Authority and Customs, with its HQs established at Nakawa URA offices in the year 2017.
The three agencies has together benefited from the joint capacity building exercises facilitated by UNODC, the joint planning, joint interventions, and utilization of the shared resources like the office premises, the computers hand held scanners, etc. as donated by the UNODC.
As the lead Agency, Customs took the responsibility of seizure and subsequently storage of the above in the Customs warehouse pending the handover of the same to the competent Authority (UWA) for further management.
On how the items will be disposed, Kagumire had this to say: “We are looking forward to our involvement as key stakeholders in the final disposal of the same so that they do not get back to the very hands we seized the items from.”
To detect concealment of such products, the Customs department has procured and deployed cargo scanners at all major border crossing points of Malaba, Busia, Mutukula, Mirama, Elegu, Entebbe, and Katuna with a view to further improve on our capacity to detect concealment of such products among the timber and other products for export to the middle and Far East.
Kagumire further expressed gratitude to UNODC for sponsoring the joint training exercises, UWA for the technical support in our field operations, all the security organs, the Customs department and all the stakeholders for the joint effort put in the exercise.
Charles Tumwesigye; the deputy director field operations at Uganda Wildlife Authority, while receiving the items thanked URA for the cooperation and coordination over the years not only in the area of seizures but also other areas. He said that URA is a strong member of the national wildlife crime coordination taskforce.
He said that UWA will keep the items in their inventory for safe custody, and make sure that no one tampers with them. Disposal of the items is awaiting a cabinet decision according to Tumwesigye.
Tumwesigye said that Entebbe Airport used to be a key transit route, but the installation of non-intrusive scanners, use of sniffer dogs and intelligence has made it hard for the criminals as he added: “It is very difficult now. You cannot pass any item at Entebbe airport because if the scanners of URA miss, the dogs will not miss, and intelligence will not miss detecting it.”