The Nimule one-stop border post between Uganda and South Sudan is currently operating at a quarter of its capacity, creating inefficiencies in border operations.
Built at a cost of $5 million, the post was launched 10 months ago, but Ugandan Customs officials say the South Sudan side is still underutilised and risks becoming a white elephant. The Ugandan officials were at the post to hand out personal protection equipment to health workers.
The Nimule one-stop border post (OSBP), also called Elegu on the Ugandan side, was commissioned in February to improve regional and cross-border trade and make it more efficient. In particular, it was expected to reduce congestion at the border, which slowed movement of people and cargo, but also to get rid of duplicated border procedures and non-co-ordination of government services at the Customs point.
Business people say the main problem at Nimule is the lack of skills and insecurity in South Sudan, which has interfered with a programme to train Customs officers.
On the South Sudan side, there is only the presence of the police and army -- who are in charge of immigration as well as collection of some permit levies. The Ugandan side has a functioning fully staffed Customs office, revenue authority, Uganda National Bureau of Standards, immigration officers, inspectors from the ministry of agriculture and health, each with an office and security personnel.
There is also a bank, forex bureaus, an office for clearing and forwarding agents and another for informal cross border women traders.
Trade Mark East Africa acting country director Damali Ssali said they remain committed to supporting the OSBP to reach its expected potential.
"We are hoping to see South Sudan OSBP fully up and running and we will do everything to facilitate that. We will do that in a co-ordinated manner because they are our biggest trading partner," she said.
"The handover and distribution of personal protective equipment to the border frontline officers and informal cross border traders at Elegu border post is part of safe border trade intervention to the government, an emergency response of sorts to help alleviate the impact of Covid-19 on trade and movement of goods and services," said Counsellor Ulrik Jorgensen of the Embassy of Denmark.
The acting immigration-in-charge Elegu Cluster, Prosper Arineitwe Twayaga, has called for trainings to be expedited because it is taking a toll on what should be a well-co-ordinated operation between the two Customs points.
South Sudan is still experiencing a tense political environment, and security and staff at the Nimule OSBP have been affected.
According to Commissioner Customs, Abel Kagumire, the safety of border frontline workers has been prioritised. Elegu was the epicentre of Covid-19 cases in the months of May and June. He assured staff that with PPEs, trade will continue uninterrupted. The PPEs were donated by the embassy of Denmark in Uganda.
Uganda Revenue Authority records show that about 200 trucks cross from Uganda into South Sudan every day.