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East African Truckers Pay Bribes for Negative Coronavirus Tests, Official Says

FILE - Trucks wait in a line on the road to enter Uganda in Malaba, a city bordering with Uganda, western Kenya, April 29, 2020. (AFP)
FILE - Trucks wait in a line on the road to enter Uganda in Malaba, a city bordering with Uganda, western Kenya, April 29, 2020. (AFP)

Long-distance truck drivers are paying bribes to evade coronavirus testing at the Uganda-Kenya border, the head of Uganda's Professional Drivers Network said.

Omongo Ndugu, who is also the vice chairperson of the Uganda Long Distance and Heavy Truck Drivers Association, said drivers and their associates pay bribes of between $14 and $40 to get a certificate indicating negative status, or to cross the border without being tested.

Drivers are required to be designated as COVID-19-free before they can cross the border into any east African country. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In an interview with VOA, Ndugu said drivers sometimes pay the bribes to bypass endless backups caused by tough restrictions at the two main crossing points, Busia and Malaba.

"Last week there was a [traffic] jam stretching for over 65 kilometers into Kenya and the drivers were left with no option other than to respond to brokers who approached them and took bribes. And in a short while, they were shocked that they were able to receive negative results on their phone," he said.

Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper spoke with truckers who confirmed the bribing schemes. One driver told the paper he and his colleagues paid for a negative test result "and after about an hour, we were cleared to proceed. Why should I spend many days at the border if I can get the money and pay them to cross the border easily?"

VOA attempted to reach officials at Uganda's Health Ministry for comment on the alleged bribe-paying, but the officials did not answer their phones.

Ndugu said the bribery is undermining efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus. He also said the revelation has shocked public officials and Ugandans, who have been under movement restrictions as part of the effort to combat the spread of the infection.

Ndugu acknowledged the Health Ministry is "highly stretched" and that many people working to enforce COVID-19 restrictions receive little or no pay. "So many of these people have chances or can end up taking bribes, because these are like part-time jobs to them. They will have to have a life after COVID," he said.

Uganda has been less affected than many countries by the disease. The Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus tracking site says Uganda currently has 10,590 confirmed cases and 97 deaths.

Ndugu said the solution for halting the bribery is to establish more testing centers in Uganda and Kenya so drivers can take COVID-19 tests before reaching the border and sidestep the delays.