Truck drivers at the Malaba border in Tororo District are protesting a government directive to divert all empty Kenya-bound trucks to Lwakhakha border in Namisindwa District, which is more than 100kms away.
The drivers say the decision is unnecessary and costly to their operations.
This follows a directive by the Minister of Works, Gen Edward Katumba Wamala, and his Kenyan counterpart instructing Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to divert empty trucks from Busia and Malaba borders to Lwakhakha border as a temporary measure to deal with the huge backlog of trucks in Kenya.
The backlog was caused by the implementation of Covid-19 protocols at the Malaba border, which led to protests by the truck drivers.
In an interview with Daily Monitor on Monday, Mr Muhammad Kasaija, a truck driver, said diverting them to Lwakhakha costs them an extra 40 litres of diesel.
He added that the Lwakhakha route lacks social amenities such as restaurants and health facilities.
Mr Fredrick Njoroge, another truck driver, said whereas the Lwakhakha road is tarmacked, some sections are in a bad state.
“We would not be challenging the government’s decision for us to use this route, but some sections along the road are in a poor state. When our trucks get stuck, we have to pay locals to push them,” he said.
Mr James Ssempijja, also a truck driver, said in the past two weeks, several drivers were attacked, robbed and had their trucks vandalised on the Lwakhakha road.
“The attackers use knives to disable the truck’s hydraulic system, making it fail to power on and move, and in the process, the criminals steal vehicle equipment and rob drivers of their belongings, including money,” he said.
He added: “Drivers of small trucks pay an extra Shs7,800, while big trucks have to pay an extra Shs13,000 in road fees when using the road. In addition to that, authorities at the Lwakhakha border make us pay extra KShs300 (about Shs10,000) compared to Malaba which is KShs200 (about Shs6,600) for each empty truck exiting the border to Kenya.”
Mr Peter Namalwa Sireka, the chairperson of clearing agents at the Malaba border, said whereas the directive was aimed at temporarily solving the challenge of truck backlog, URA wants to make the policy permanent.
“We are aware that the two minsters made orders which were to last for two weeks, but we are surprised that after several months, URA was continuing to implement the same policy specifically for this border,” Mr Sireka said.
Mr Sireka added that the policy had disadvantaged more than 300 agents who clear empty trucks at the border, in terms of employment and income.
Ms Hadija Lubombo, the chairperson of clearing agents for the empty trucks, said the diversion has left them without employment.
A source at URA Malaba border offices, said the policy was aimed at allowing the entry point to handle mainly exports and imports into the country.
“We have a lot of trucks carrying imports and exports through this border on a daily basis. If these were added to empty trucks, it worsens the congestion and that is why URA thinks empty trucks should exit through Lwakhakha border,” he source said.