PROHIBITIVE CHARGE

Truck drivers want Uganda to cut Covid test fees to Sh1,000

Uganda presently charges Sh5,000 to test a single driver on the Ugandan side of the border.

In Summary
  • Uganda on October 24 lowered the charges for Covid-19 testing from Sh6,500 to Sh5,000.
  • But the truckers say the fee is still too high considering the effects of Covid-19 on business.
Long distance trucks snake through Malaba town on their way to Uganda
GRIDLOCK: Long distance trucks snake through Malaba town on their way to Uganda
Image: EMOJONG OSERE

Long-distance truck drivers have appealed to the Ugandan government to lower Covid-19 testing fees to Sh1,000.

The Sh1,000 fees, they said, will be affordable as they travel across the East African country when their Covid certificates expire.

Uganda on October 24 lowered the charges for a Covid-19 test from Sh6,500 to Sh5,000.

“Reducing the fees will be a good move. Some drivers with no Covid-19 negative certificates get stuck in Uganda for lack of money for testing,” Swaib Abdallah told the Star in Malaba town on Wednesday.

He said for the sake of promoting the spirit of East African Community and regional trade,the fees should even be scrapped.

Starting September 1, Uganda announced a fee of Sh6,500 for truckers to get tested for coronavirus. Cargo transporters said the decision would push up the already high cost of transport in the region.

The decision to charge for the coronavirus testing reversed Uganda's earlier decision of free testing of truck drivers and facilitation of movement of goods.

Francis Njuguna, who spoke to the Star at Kocholya market, said despite the decision to lower the fees from Sh6,500 to Sh5,000, the levy was still high.

“Considering the effects of Covid-19 on business across the world and in particular East Africa, Sh5,000 is still high,” he said.

“That amount should be lowered further. Our six EAC presidents in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan should agree to scrap the fees altogether.”

The decision by Uganda to charge for Covid-19 testing emanated from failure by Kenya to efficiently execute the exercise on its end, amid corruption claims in the handling of Covid-19 funds.

Uganda is reported to have argued that it had been overburdened by Kenyan drivers seeking testing services from the Ugandan side of the border in Malaba and Busia, as they avoid long waiting time in Kenya where it would take up to three days before they are tested.

By the time Uganda introduced the Sh6,500 fee, testing and getting results on the Ugandan side of the border took eight to 12 hours.

This, the drivers argued, made it more reliable and preferred by truck drivers who are keen to ensure shorter truck turn-around time between Mombasa and key transit destinations, mainly Uganda, Burundi, DR Congo, South Sudan and Rwanda.

“Transmission of results has become faster because of the online system, but we still request President Yoweri Museveni to cut further the cost of testing,” said Michael Ndhiwa, who plies the Mombasa-Kampala route.

He said testing fees should be uniform. On October 24, Uganda’s Health ministry said lowering Covid testing fees from Sh6,500 to Sh5,000 was occasioned by cutting of the cost for transporting laboratory testing kits and other supplies from manufacturers to Uganda. This reduction of the cost came after the resumption of international flights.

The East African Business Council has already called for an end to the mandatory testing of truck drivers within the region. The council in October said suspending the testing would ease congestion stifling cross-border trade.

Edited by Henry Makori