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Fury over extortions at Uganda’s main airport forces regulator's hand

Monday January 23 2023
Entebbe International Airport in Uganda on March 3, 2020.

Entebbe International Airport in Uganda on March 3, 2020. PHOTO | SUMY SADURNI | AFP

By DAILY MONITOR

A worker at Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport pocketed $10,000 to facilitate a passenger illegally travel to Brazil this month, a report has revealed.

Records available to Monitor show that the unnamed passenger had incomplete documents, but a National Aviation Services (NAS) employee demanded a bribe to aid the traveller to board the flight.

The cases of corruption at Uganda’s only international airport have riled the public, with the State House Anti-Corruption Unit (Shacu) confirming that it’s moving in to sanitise operations.

“Shacu is involved and is working together with [the directorate of] immigration, police and other stakeholders to handle the various issues,” Ms Mariam Natasha, the spokesperson for the anti-graft body told Monitor.

“Investigations have commenced and already some of the suspects are culpable. More information on the investigations will be available in due course.”

Th NAS employee has since been terminated from service after the incident took place earlier this month at the passenger handling section.

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Exposing culprits

Last week, Mr Vianney Luggya, Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) spokesperson, told Monitor that they would soon publish a list of people whose security passes have been withdrawn for engagement in extortion and other corruption-related malpractices at the airport.

Ms Olive Birungi Lumonya, the UCAA deputy director-general, last Friday told a media briefing that from 2020 to-date 26 members of staff from various agencies operating at the airport have been suspended, terminated or subjected to other disciplinary measures.

The country’s aviation sector last week was criticised after videos exposing various forms of extortion at the airport went viral on social media.

“We are not angels and some mishaps happen but we have taken action on errant officers found wanting and we shall continue taking action. We need to work with integrity and honesty,’’ Maj Gen Kasiita Gowa, who heads the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control, said last week.

At the joint media briefing, the officials revealed that one of the suspects had been arrested on Friday.

“The vigilant members of the public shared leading information that enabled us to get clues,” Ms Lumonya said.

The man in custody was demanding a Ush500,000 bribe to alter a traveller’s passport, Monitor learnt.

Another staffer was also implicated attempting to seek a kickback to allow a passenger to add more language to their carry-on items without payments. The woman has since been terminated from the job.

There are more women employees caught seeking bribes, with at least 17 of the 26 culprits.

“We were deluded to ever think that women are not or are less corrupt,” says Agather Atuhaire, a lawyer and journalist.

“These women come from the same rotten society that we are living in and we have enough examples. There are women that have been ministers and CEOs who are not any different from their male counterparts.”

Following the extortion claims, all staff at the airport will be required to wear their name tags for easy identification.

UCAA has also re-instated a 2021 directive to the airport staff banning use of personal mobile phones while on duty.

“It is only the supervisors that are exempted. While there may have been laxity in implementation of this directive, it is now being re-emphasised and is going to be fully enforced,” Ms Lumonya said.

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