Contraband Cosmetics Still On The Rise And Stifling Revenue Collection


Vaselines, creams, soaps and cosmetics that promise to lighten skin colour are increasingly popular despite their prohibition in Uganda. The sad thing is that the women and some men that have specialized in using them for “extra beauty” completely ignore the health risks.

In Kisaasi, Eva Nansubuga, a food vendor, is one of such women who has overlooked the risks. She is an ardent customer of Caro light, a skin-lightening crème that contains mercury and hydroquinone – substances that health experts say are some of the leading causes of skin cancer. In one of the random conversations, she believes she is more beautiful with a lighter complexion. Nansubuga’s defense is not different from most women addicted to using these contraband cosmetics.

Despite their justification, URA through the Customs function has cracked a whip on all those found in possession of these products. This operation has been on for the last two months and a number of interceptions have been made to protect the lives of Ugandans and encourage fair competition.

For example, on February 1st 2022, a truck containing 10 tonnes of Caro light creams was intercepted and on February 9th another one tonne of concealed hydroquinone cosmetics was impounded along the Northern Bypass.

Geoffrey Balamaga the URA Manager Enforcement Operations explained that despite the tight intelligence network to curb importation of such products, smugglers still find their way to return them.

“They declare them as products in transit to the neighboring countries like South Sudan and DR Congo where they are not prohibited, so once they get there they now organise and bring them back in small quantities using trucks,” Balamaga explained.

URA’s Geoffrey Balamaga displaying some of the contraband cosmetics to journalists. PHOTO/FLORENCE NAMUGANZA

On the other hand, Ibrahim Bbossa, the URA Spokesperson noted that continuous importation of such products not only affects health but also affects the taxes URA collects for improved service delivery.

“There are bad practices we have come across as a revenue mobiliser where people are engaging in illicit trade and contraband products. These products do not pay taxes and it is incumbent on us as a revenue mobiliser to work with other government agencies to take action,” Bbossa affirmed.

Balamaga also revealed that the smuggling of illegal cosmetics is common in the areas around Lake Albert, Mpondwe, Hoima, Congo, Bunagana and Butogota. He therefore urged the Public to desist from importing or consuming such harmful products as stipulated in the East African Community Customs Management Act (EACCMA). The Act prescribes a penalty of 50% of the value of goods or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or both for those caught in violation of the law. All those found culpable according to the Act are also liable to a fine not exceeding 7,000 dollars and their goods confiscated.

Caro light is one of the prohibited cosmetics for its effects on the human skin

Despite continuous smuggling of contraband items, URA has intensified intelligence guided operations leveraging the use of Non-Intrusive Inspection technology at the border points and field intelligence enforcement operations. URA is also intensifying tax education awareness, especially on the dangers of smuggling to the individual, the community and the economy.

These operations are already reaping because in the last one year the URA has been able to intercept 3,492 cartons of assorted contraband cosmetics totaling to 39,748kg.

Consumers are therefore encouraged to desist from using such products that are not only a danger to their health but also affect the economy.  For now, the confiscated goods will be destroyed at the owners’ cost and the trucks will be penalised once investigations are complete.

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