Continuous infiltration of foreigners into the country through secret border points after bribing security forces is frustrating the government strategy to curb the spread of deadly coronavirus.
According to reports from residents near the border points, the directive by President Museveni to close all crossing points to stop entry of foreigners has been frustrated by patrolling security forces who take bribes and let in immigrants from neighbouring countries such as DR Congo, South Sudan, Kenya and Rwanda.
The residents said the deployment at the country's 103 ungazetted border points has not worked efficiently as new points through water bodies and land are opened daily.
Sources, who preferred anonymity, told Daily Monitor on Tuesday that security personnel manning border points are being paid Shs500,000 to allow illegal entrants.
Mr Nickson Owole, the Busia Resident District Commissioner, confirmed that foreigners from Kenya and other coronavirus-affected countries are still using the porous borders to cross into Uganda, weeks after government closed its borders to curb Covid-19.
However, he said government was beefing up security at the porous border points to seal the illegal entry points that are being used.
Mr Owole said police, Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) and Local Defence Units (LDU) have been deployed, especially on River Malaba to man foot patrols.
He said the deployment followed two weeks after the district security committee took a decision to destroy over 15 illegal wooden bridges that had been erected on River Malaba to stop illegal entry of foreigners.
"The wooden bridges were destroyed during an operation we conducted being part of the interventions to deny foreigners who may be coming from coronavirus contact countries from crossing into the country," Mr Owole said.
The operation came after Uganda sealed off its borders with Kenya at Malaba, Busia and Lwakhakha.
The RDC said the deployment has been made at all illegal crossing routes that stretched over 50km.
He said the local leaders are also bribed to allow illegal entry of foreigners who cross into Uganda without being screened at the gezetted border points.
"We have also engaged village chairpersons to report individuals trying to cross into the country using the porous border and this is working although some of them end up being compromised," the RDC said.
Mr Owole said he had asked police to investigate allegations that some individuals and security officers who are using the situation to extort money from foreigners.
Mr Rogers Chebene, the Tororo District police commander, said with the help of village council chairpersons earlier, they had destroyed the same wooden bridges.
He said the bridges had been laid in a stretch of 50km covering Malaba Town Council, Mella, Osukuru and Magola sub-counties in Tororo, Manafwa and Namisindwa districts.
Mr Chebene said with the additional manpower from the UPDF and LDUs, security will be more tight at the border.
"This has also scaled up our surveillance and foot patrols," he said.
However, there is an outcry that foreigners are still sneaking into the country after bribing their way out.
During a district response taskforce meeting on coronavirus, sub- county chiefs mainly from areas bordering.
Local leaders in Kabale and Kisoro districts told this newspaper that crossings of people from Rwanda and DR Congo into Uganda continue and are putting citizens at higher risk of coronavirus infection.
Mr Nelson Nshangabasheija, the mayor of Katuna Town Council, told Daily Monitor that although a screening centre had been established at Katuna border with Rwanda, a number of foreigners are entering through illegal points.
"We have established a screening centre against corornavirus at Katuna border but we are worried some foreigners who use porous border points to enter Uganda will bring us health problems," Mr Nshangabasheija said.
In February last year, Rwandan government closed its official border posts with Uganda for Ugandan-made goods and banned its nationals from entering Uganda.
However, many Rwandan nationals have since been using the porous border points to enter the country for trade or visiting relatives.
Mr Robert Muhereza, a Daily Monitor correspondent in Katuna, said there was information of Congolese bribing security operatives to enter the country.
He said an investigation was ongoing for a notorious army officer who was said to have been arrested for taking bribes to allow foreigners to cross the border.
West Nile residents more afraid
Daily Monitor also learnt that at Oraba border point in Koboko District, several people from DR Congo and South Sudan continued to illegally enter the country without screening for Covid-19.
Ms Grace Ropan, a resident at the border point in Isoko Village in Koboko, said: "This border has a lot of people who cross every day and people have continued with normal business. Here, people feel normal as long as they have washed their hands and they cross for business, they do not mind. But the Ministry of Health should establish some testing kits here to ensure more safety."
Allegations from locals at the border points in Zombo District was that patrolling soldiers at the crossing points were taking bribes to grant foreigners entry.
Health and Security speak out
Dr Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary of Ministry of Health, said government was working to stop foreigners entering through these porous border points.
"We are working with security to ensure the problem of illegal entry through porous borders is addressed," Dr Atwine said.
Gen Elly Tumwine, the Security minister, said many people [he did not specify the number] are arrested daily trying to sneak into Uganda.
He said insisted the heavy deployment of army has sealed the more than 103 ungazetted border points.
"There is continued build up and we have closed many porous borders. We are giving out motorcycles for patrol along the borders. Patrol has been ongoing and we are making it tighter," Gen Tumwine said.
"Quite a number have already been arrested and more are being arrested on daily basis as they try to cross into the country," Gen Tumwine added.
He denied the claim that security personnel are taking bribes to allow foreigners cross the borders into Uganda.
The minister said only isolated individuals were doing that, adding that efforts are being made to bring them to book.
"There are criminal journalists, criminal politicians, and criminal church people and there are criminal soldiers; for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," Gen Tumwine said in biblical allusions.
Reported by Tonny Abet, Joseph Omollo, Robert Muhereza & Felix Warom.