Uganda Revenue Authority says it is increasingly facing a challenge with smuggling of ‘illegal lotions’ into the local market, with some traders of the products explaining that the huge demand from women has contributed to the thriving of the unscrupulous trade.
Since January, URA has seized about 4,000 cartons of smuggled cosmetics at the border posts, officials say. The creams, according to the tax body, contain high levels of hydroquinone, mercury, lead and hard metals, which pose health risks to users.
“We have had so many interceptions and one of the things that we are fighting is cosmetics that have hydroquinone,” said Agnes Nabwire, the commissioner of enforcement at URA.
“Legally, they are not supposed to be cleared through our customs clearance.” The impounded body creams that included Citro light, Pro light and Caro light, were found to contain hydroquinone.
According to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), since 2016, at least 100 beauty products in the form of lotion, soaps and creams have been banned from entering the market.
But if a survey conducted by The Observer is anything to go by, the prohibited products are highly available in the market. For instance, out of the 13 shops visited at Grand Corner and Kikuubo, at least nine had one of the products deemed dangerous by the standards body. The survey only focused on the three cream items that were recently impounded by URA.
At Grand Corner building, for example, a tin of Citro light costs Shs 12,000 while a carton goes for Shs 45,000 in Kikuubo.
URA also noted that there has been an increase in the smuggling of cement into the country. The smuggling has distorted prices in the market. Apollo Triyetu, a Kenyan national, was intercepted along the border smuggling 300 bags of Ndovu cement into Uganda. He stored it in his house and later repacked it as Tororo Cement.
“From our analysis and study of the market prices, we have seen some dealers in cement selling it cheaply,” Nabwire said. A bag of cement goes for Shs 30,000 on the market but if successfully smuggled, the price goes down to about Shs 25,000, according to URA. This, they said, has brought unfair competition to local players who pay taxes.
In February 2017, customs enforcement, together with the Uganda police, managed to recover 135 bags of counterfeit cement in the market.