North Kyoga Police warns against new SACCO scam

Police in North Kyoga Region has cautioned the public about a recent scam that specifically targets SACCOs and warned people against giving their money to individuals they do not know personally if they are to avoid falling prey to such fraudsters.

“Across our region, a number of vulnerable individuals and some SACCO members have sadly fallen victim to a complex scam known as ‘Courier Fraud’,” North Kyoga Regional Police Commander, Paul Nkore, said in an interview.

Nkore said that despite efforts to crack down on the cruel fraud that mainly targets SACCOs and strips members of their savings, the number of perpetrators is on the increase in the region.

“We have received a number of reports that SACCOs across the region have been targeted by fraudsters purporting to be State House officials. A total of 32 people have been arrested in connection with the alleged acts of fraud, and investigations remain ongoing,” he said.

Last week, police in Otuke district apprehended four suspected fraudsters for allegedly defrauding members of Otuke United district SACCO.

The four, led by one Monica Adongo according to reports, were moving with a letter purportedly from State House allowing them to operate as a SACCO.

The others are Robinah Akello, a resident of Aloi Sub County; Geoffrey Ap3ello of the same area and Richard Ojok of Adwari Corner, who also allegedly claimed to be the SACCO Coordinator for Otuke.

Busted

Christopher Omara, the Otuke Resident District Commissioner, told theCooperator that he received an invitation letter signed by Adongo to attend a meeting but upon consultation, he realized that the SACCO does not exist in the area.

Omara says that the four, who claim to be operating in the districts of Dokolo, Apac, Kwania, Oyam, Moroto, Kotido, and Gulu City, were also collecting Shs 10, 000 Shillings from the SACCO members.

They also claimed to have an office in Kampala at Mapeera House, but upon interrogation, were found fraudsters, the RDC revealed.

“That means the Cooperatives are at risk of fraud. We urge SACCO members not to contribute any money to any individual or organization that they are not sure is genuine,” he appealed.

In December last year, security personnel in Kwania district arrested eight suspected fraudsters for extorting Shs 42.5m from Ikwera SACCO members under the guise of offering them juicy jobs.

Caution

Edith Basalirwa, the Kwania District Police Commander (DPC), asked the public to always report unscrupulous characters to the authorities immediately.

“Please help us to reinforce the message that police officers or your bank will never ask you to hand over money or transfer funds. If you receive a call like this, do not interact – hang up and report it immediately,” Basalirwa said.

North Kyoga RPC, Nkore, reaffirmed the police’s commitment to dismantle the scam network by recruiting members of the community to be its eyes and ears on the ground.

“SACCO members and other members of the public can also seek guidance from the District Commercial Officers and the offices of the Resident District Commissioners before transacting in any business. This will save them from being taken advantage of by fraudsters,” he said.

According to the 2019 Annual Police Crime Report, North Kyoga registered the highest number of fraud cases in the country in 2019.

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SACCOs urged to embrace tech, digital lending

Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (SACCOs) have been urged to embrace the latest technological innovations in order to catch up with market trends and safeguard their market share.

Speaking during a one-week training of Ikwera SACCO Members, held in Aduku town council, Kwania district, the former Land Minister Daniel Omara Atubu rallied the SACCO Members to join the digital lending space, especially with the coming of mobile money.

“Technology is reshaping the financial industry forcing SACCOs to match up with the trend or risk being left out. Let’s utilize mobile money for conducting business and embrace digital loans to provide quick cash to members through mobile money wallets. Entry into digital loan platforms will safeguard the market flooded by independent digital lenders such as Commercial banks,” Omara, an Economist, noted.

Geoffrey Okello, a senior accountant at the Uganda College of Commerce, Aduku, underscored the security that digital transactions offer.

“It would protect you from the danger of being targeted by thugs after withdrawing your money from the bank,” he said.

For his part, Kwania District Commercial Officer, Patrick Bura, urged the SACCO members to appoint knowledgeable leaders who can guide them on how to make the best use of their resources.

Ikwera SACCO Ltd Manager, Robert Odur, said plans are underway to integrate the SACCO members into available digital platforms, noting that it would be one way to extend financial inclusion to the unbanked.

“We need innovative ways to bring the unbanked population into the formal financial system,” Odur said.

Ikwera SACCO Ltd., established in 2009 is fully registered with the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives. However, despite having 1,037 members and growing, and a current portfolio of over Shs 300m, the SACCO is as yet not enrolled on the Mobile money system.

The Uganda Finscope survey for 2018- a periodic study of the country’s financial sector since 2006-indicates a sharp increase in the number of Ugandans who use financial services.

The total value of mobile money transactions grew from Shs 37.4 tn ($9.7 bn) in June 2016 to Shs 79.8 tn (USD 20.7 bn) in FY 2019/2020, according to Bank of Uganda data.

The survey also found that 50 percent of savers, which works out to five million adults, save informally with village savings and credit associations and trusted community members.

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Microfinance minister to promote Emyooga products

The Minister of State for Micro-Finance & Small Enterprises, Hon. Haruna Kasolo Kyeyune has pledged to create a department within the Microfinance Support Centre to expand the market base for products produced under the Emyooga scheme.

Kasolo made the pledge last Friday while visiting Emyooga SACCOs in Mbarara after Immaculate Tumuhimbise, the Chairperson of Mbarara City South Women Entrepreneurs’ SACCO raised concerns over potential overproduction by Emyooga enterprises with no ready market for their products.

“People should not produce and fail to find a market. I will propose to the cabinet that funds be set aside to help in marketing and research for Emyooga products,” the minister promised.

He encouraged the entrepreneurs to be innovative and to produce attractive products that will be competitive in the international market.

“I implore Emyooga members to be innovative and creative such that when you make a product, say a bag, it is as good in quality as those made from established markets like China.”

He also cautioned prudence in managing their capital resources.

“You are not supposed to overspend; create cheap capital within the informal sector because you may find it difficult to access credit from commercial banks,” Kasolo advised.

Robert Mpakibi, the Assistant Registrar of co-operatives confirmed that 32 out of 36 registered Emyooga SACCOs in the district have already accessed money under the initiative.

Impressive savings

Meanwhile, Phiona Aheebwa, the Front Desk Officer at the Microfinance Support Centre Ltd (MSC) was impressed by the saving culture demonstrated by Mbarara City South Women Entrepreneurs SACCO.

The 202-member SACCO has already saved Shs 38m since November 18, last year, bringing its total capital to Shs 68m after adding the Shs 30m Emyooga cash from MSC, revealed SACCO Chairperson, Tumuhimbise.

Aheebwa appealed to members to maintain the savings culture and promised that if they are consistent, they could benefit from a bigger loan facility from the MSC in the future.

“If members keep taking and paying their loans well, as MSC we shall make sure that we add more money in the project at a small interest rate, depending on the performance,” she said.

Aheebwa recommended that Mbarara City South Women Entrepreneurs SACCO apply for more money from MSC should the need arise.

“If you need more money, whether it’s 100m or 300m, I will recommend that you receive it from the Microfinance Support Centre. What matters is the members to grow but not for the SACCO to build magnificent buildings,” says Aheebwa

She encouraged the Commercial Officers to continue training Emyooga members for the program to benefit the entire country.

Mbarara district, comprising of Kashari North and South, received a total of Shs 1.12 bn to cater for 36 SACCOs at constituency level, while Mbarara City received Shs 1 bn also for 36 SACCOs.

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Kabarole: Kitojo Care SACCO holds first AGM after COVID-19 setback

Kitojo Care SACCO in Kabarole district has held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) this week, after missing out on holding one in 2020.

While cooperatives are required by law to hold an AGM every year, Kitojo Care SACCO, like many others countrywide, was unable to fulfill this obligation last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in a temporary suspension of all manner of public gatherings.

Moreover, the SACCO saw its savings and loan portfolios take a hit as most of its members were constrained in conducting their business as a result of restrictions imposed by the government to limit the spread of the pandemic.

“Last year was a very hard one; the majority of our members are Boda Boda riders and others work at tour sites which were not working during the lockdown, so most of the businesses were on standstill. This affected our savings, loan repayment, and loan portfolio,” said Fortunate Kusemererwa, the SACCO’s Manager.

Consequently, he revealed, by year’s end the loan repayment rate had dropped from 92 to 85 percent, and the loan portfolio reduced from Shs 634m to Shs 464m

Kusemererwa said that Kitojo Care SACCO, which was started in 2007 with the aim of increasing members’ household incomes and improve on their saving culture, has since last year been faced by the challenge of the majority of its members being dormant, “to the extent that they cannot even afford to save Shs 10,000 per month.”

Taking a toll

The slowdown in the SACCO’s momentum has taken its toll on some of the developmental projects that it had recently undertaken.

For instance, Kusemererwa disclosed that the SACCO had in 2019 embarked on a project to construct its own office premises after squatting for several years at those of Kitojo Integrated Development Association (KIDA), its mother organization.

“KIDA has been hosting us for all these years, but in 2019, we decided to start constructing our own offices because members have since increased and cannot fit in the little space we are currently occupying,” he said.

However, due to the financial difficulties from the last year, they have not been able to continue with construction works.

“We had hoped to complete our office last year, but due to the lockdown, we had to halt it. Savings have drastically reduced, loan recovery is still poor and our members no longer take loans,” he explained.

AGM resolutions

Kusemererwa said this year’s AGM resolved that each member should contribute Shs 1,500 per month towards the completion of their office block, which he believes is the only option that will save them.

The Kabarole District Commercial Officer (DCO), John Kabango, who attended the AGM, advised members to reacquaint themselves with the reasons why they joined cooperatives in the first place so that they can enjoy the most benefits from them.

“Some people just join SACCOs to borrow money and run away without paying back. You need to know that these SACCOs are voluntary and are meant to help people improve their standard of living,” Kabango said.

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Locals protest Lango Cooperative Union land lease to German investor

Residents of Angayiki Village in Chawente Sub County in Kwania district, numbering 130 are protesting the lease of 1,165 hectares of land by Lango Cooperative Union to Smaz Group, a German investor.

theCooperator recently reported about the lease agreement between LCU and the German investor.

In a letter dated 8th of January, 2021, and addressed to LCU Chairman, Maxwell Akora, Okwir, and Company Advocates, acting on behalf of Among Agnes and 130 others, protested the proposed giveaway, saying the land in question does not belong to the Union.

Contested ownership

Ownership of the land in question has been in contention for more than a decade now.

In 2011, Lango Cooperative Union took the 131 residents of Angayiki to court, accusing them of encroaching its land at Angayiki which measures 1, 165 hectares, a matter still pending before Lira High Court Magistrate, Jeneva Natukunda.

Daniel Odongo of Okwir and Company Advocates says the resolution made by Lango Cooperative Union on the 26th of June, 2020, to lease the land to the investor was in disregard of the ongoing court process. The case is next due for hearing on the 2nd of March, 2021.

“The leadership of the Union should first remain patient. Why are they leasing out the land, yet the matter is still pending in court? Let court handle the matter,” Odongo said.

Moris Obua, one of the defendants and a resident of Angayiki, claims that the land in question is customary land.

“That land does not belong to the Lango Cooperative Union; that land belongs to us. It is customary land that we inherited from our forefathers; that is why we are still pursuing the case up to now, waiting for the court pronouncement,” he said.

In the protest letter seen by our reporter, Odongo accuses Akora and others of committing illegality and causing the suffering of over 300 people of Angayiki. He gave Lango Cooperative Union 14 days to revert to them in case it is no longer interested in the matter that it took to court.

However, Maxwell Akora, the Chairman Board of Directors of Lango Cooperative Union and also the Maruzi County Member of Parliament, told theCooperator that the land in question is already vacant because the said locals had already been evicted from it.

As a result, he said, said the Union may consider withdrawing the court case and proceed with the leasing process.

“Yes, we earlier ran to court but the Microfinance Support Center evicted the locals, so we are now thinking of removing the case from court and going on with leasing out the land to an investor,” he said in an interview.

Members of the community say they suffered a loss in 2016 when the Microfinance Support Center destroyed their houses and properties to attach the land over a Shs 2bn debt owed to it by Lango Cooperative Union. However, an injunction was later ordered against the eviction exercise.

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Excess rain blamed for low cotton production in Kasese

Cooperatives and farmers dealing in cotton in Kasese district have decried the lower than expected production of the cash crop as a result of unusually high rainfall experienced last season.

Cotton farmers who spoke to theCooperator said the excessive rain led to a delay in the cotton harvest in Kasese, thereby negatively affecting the quality of the crop and ultimately resulted in reduced prices.

According to Adrian Katwetegeke, the in-charge of the Uganda Cotton Development Authority at Nyakatonzi Cooperative Union in Kasese, over the last two seasons the price of cotton has dropped from between Shs. 30,000 – 35,000 a barrel to Shs 20,000 currently due climatic conditions.

“Cotton is one of the crops that require a little rain, but for the last two years, Kasese and Uganda, in general, have been experiencing too much rain, leading to low production,” Katwetegeke noted.

Moreover, he added, the overabundant rainfall affects farmers’ ability to spray their crop on time.

“Spraying must be done on time in order to have the desired effect. Our farmers often wait to be told that their gardens are due for spraying, especially when it is raining a lot. By the time they are ready to do it, it is too late for them to save the gardens.”

Enock Nyabwangu, a farmer revealed that cotton needs a moderate amount of water for optimal growth. He says a good cotton plant should produce twenty or more flowers per season.

“However, this season, each plant has only 10-15 flowers. This means that the profit will be less than what we used to get due to climatic conditions ‘, Nyabwangu said.

Nyabwangu and Elias Muhingo, another farmer, advocated for the establishment of irrigation schemes in order to increase cotton production in Kasese and Rubirizi districts.

“Irrigation would help farmers plant cotton during the dry season and reduce the dependence on nature,” the duo said.

Kasese district established a mini irrigation scheme in Katholu in order to help cotton farmers produce even during the dry season, but a lot more needs to be done to maximize its benefit to the farmers, according to the district Chairperson Geoffrey Sibendire.

Cotton growing tips

Lilian Kiiza, a Cotton Extension Officer in Kasese, revealed the principles that farmers need to follow if they are to maximize benefits from growing cotton.

“They need to follow five principles,” she stressed. “Ensure early land preparation, then plant, thin, weed, and spray it on time.”

Kiiza also advised farmers to engage extension workers for advisory services, including getting guidance on the correct pesticides and other inputs to use.

“The challenge is that farmers buy pesticides from shops without any advisory services on how and when to apply them, which ends up affecting their crop. They should make use of available extension services for better yields,” she said.

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Kwania district launches Teachers’ SACCO

Kwania district officials have launched a teachers’ savings and credit cooperative organization (SACCO).

The SACCO, which will accommodate all 1,074 teachers of primary and secondary public schools in the district, was launched during a recent workshop on financial literacy education organized for headteachers at St. Margaret Primary School in Aduku Town Council.

Members will be required to pay Shs 20,000 in Membership Fee, and also buy shares at Shs 10,000 each.

The SACCO, which was opened with support from Germany NGO, Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation (SBFIC), hopes to inculcate a saving culture among the teachers.

Kwania Resident District Commissioner, Salim Komakech, while presiding over the SACCO’s launch, pledged to support the fledgling society in its growth.

“We are going to do a lot of training to make the SACCO grow, and it will make the district exemplary in the entire Lango,” Komakech pledged.

RDC Komakech also advised the teachers to embrace value addition initiatives and vowed to lobby for funding for such undertakings from donors, ministries, or NGOs.

He encouraged the Teachers’ Union branch officials in the district and the Education Office to work together to popularise the SACCO among teachers in all the schools with the aim of fighting exploitation by financial institutions which he said charge exorbitant interest on loans.

Meanwhile, Andrew Omunu, the Kwania District Education Officer (DEO), urged teachers to decisively implement the resolutions agreed upon in the formation of the SACCO to enable it to expand and succeed.

For his part, Geoffrey Akodo, the Apac district Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU) Chairman, cautioned the newly elected SACCO leadership against personalizing the SACCO.

“You are aware that Apac Teachers’ SACCO had a lot of issues. The headteachers who were elected as SACCO leaders personalized it and swindled all the funds disbursed to it by the government. I ask the Kwania Teachers’ SACCO leaders to be more transparent and accountable; don’t personalize the SACCO,” he said.

Akodo also rallied the SACCO members to embrace commercial farming as an alternative source of livelihoods rather than depending entirely on their salaries.

The interim committee elected to kickstart the SACCO’s operations includes Patrick Odongo, the Headteacher of Aboko Primary School as Chairperson, deputized by Claire Awor, Headteacher of Aporwegi Primary School.

Richard Kenneth Ayo, the Headteacher of Punoatar Primary School was voted Treasurer while James Ojok, the Headteacher of Itekiber Primary School, was elected unopposed as the SACCO Secretary.

Other headteachers elected as members of the interim committee include; Toga Francis, Joy Okello, Molly Ajwang, William Okok, Sylvester Omara, and Robert Odur Okello.

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Advocacy platform needed for Agriculture sector post-COVID- NAAC

The National Alliance of Agricultural Co-operatives (NAAC) has called for the formation of a nationwide agricultural advocacy platform to bridge the gap between the government and the other actors in Uganda’s agricultural sector.

The call was made at a recent consultative meeting organized by the NAAC, which was attended by, among others, representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, and Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives.

During the meeting, the national level co-operative union shared the findings of a survey it conducted to describe and analyze the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the relationships between market actors within selected value chains.

The resulting report identified and measured resilience strategies adopted by different market actors following lockdown measures rolled out by governments across the globe in response to the pandemic.

Connecting actors in the Agric sector

Key among recommendations on how to strengthen the functionality and inclusiveness of markets in the wake of the pandemic was the establishment of a National Agricultural Advocacy Platform.

The platform will provide a permanent space for sector actors to engage the Government of Uganda and other stakeholders with policy proposals to develop resilient Agri-market systems that can mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses while facilitating inclusive growth.

One of the participants, Joseo Tegyeza, a Commissioner from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), emphasized the need to adapt pragmatically to the post-pandemic reality without sacrificing service delivery.

“We need to pin COVID-19 squarely by finding ways to work around it because it’s the only way forward. We shouldn’t use it as an excuse not to deliver,” he said.

For his part, Dr. Moki M. Abubaker, Commissioner for Policy Development and Capacity Building at OPM, called for partnerships among the various entities saying, “that it is the only way to reach out to all stakeholders, especially the farmers.”

The survey’s sample comprised of 886 Ugandan farmers (35% female) and 470 businesses, and included traders, transporters, processors, and financiers from Ntugamo, Mubende, Kasese, Bushenyi, Kiruhura, Ibanda, Sembabule, Wakiso, Lira, Gulu, and Tororo, to mention but a few.

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Eastern Kyoga Multipurpose Cooperative members join ACDP two years after launch

Members of Eastern Kyoga Multi-Purpose Co-operative Society (EKMCS) in Serere district are slowly embracing the Agricultural Cluster Development Project (ACDP), two years after its introduction in the region.

ACDP is a five-year government project that aims to boost on-farm productivity and improve post-harvest handling capabilities for selected agricultural commodities, in chosen areas in the country, by helping farmers acquire agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, tarpaulins and pesticides.

A first-time beneficiary of the scheme is required to contribute 33% of Shs 450,000 in the first season (Shs 148,500) while the government tops up the remaining 67% of the cost of the inputs. In the second season, the beneficiary and government split the cost equally and each pay 50% of the cost of inputs. In the third season, the government pays 33%, and the beneficiary covers the rest.

Once burnt…

However, although the ACDP was introduced in 2018, members of the Eastern Kyoga cooperative only started embracing it in 2020 because of a bad experience many had had with a cryptocurrency venture called E-Coin.

theCooperator has established that, in 2016, the cooperative’s then 20 members were persuaded to invest in E-Coin, with the promise that they would reap Shs 150,000 per week.

“Some members of the cooperative even sold their animals to participate in the E-coin venture and ended up losing millions of shillings,” Stephen Epau, the Manager of EKMCS and Chairperson, Omagara Rice Growers, said in an interview.

“Because of that, members became sceptical of any program requiring them to pay money to benefit,” he said by way of explanation of the initial resistance to ACDP which is premised on partial farmer investment.

Warming to ACDP

Nevertheless, Epau said the cooperative’s members, who have grown to 100 in the past year, started enrolling for ACDP after a series of sensitisation outreaches.

As a result of the sensitisation efforts, two farmers’ groups- Omagara Rice Growers and Agurur Cassava Growers- were formed, with 70 members enrolled for ACDP.

“In a day we can register at least five new members. But I believe that when the information spreads, we shall register more. Currently, more than 70 people have finalized the registration process and are just waiting to be availed with the inputs,” Epau said.

Steven Omilgor, a cassava farmer, disclosed that he was conned of Shs 1.5m through the E-coin project, and it took time for him to believe in ACDP.

” But I am now grateful that I joined ACDP because I was able to plant 5 acres of cassava last season-more than I have ever planted before- because of the inputs received under the project,” he said.

Benjamin Odeke, another cassava farmer who joined the cooperative last year, said joining ACDP has made his work easier.

“Much as I have oxen [for ploughing], they cannot do a lot of work in the shortest time possible. But with ACDP, I can use tractors and plough large acres in a short time. The provision of tarpaulins has also made me give clean produce,” Odeke said.

Jennifer Icodu, the Secretary of Agurur Cassava Growers, told theCooperator that she has received 8 bags of cassava cuttings and a tarpaulin, in addition to having 2 acres of her land ploughed

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Unlicensed SACCOs risk closure, accused of preying on savers

Members of unlicensed Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (SACCOs) are at risk of losing their hard-earned savings, Philip Otim, the Apac District Commercial Officer, has warned.

Available figures indicate that there are at least 14,000 licensed SACCOs in the country, while over 5,000 others are unlicensed and therefore operating illegally, without the knowledge of the regulator.

Otim issued the warning while handing over the ‘Probationary Certificate of Existence’ to Abulomogo Maize Farmers’ and Credit Cooperative Society in Kidiani parish, Chegere Sub County, in Apac district on Thursday.

Abulomogo is one of ten SACCOs that were recently granted restricted licenses by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) and the Registrar of Cooperative Societies to operate for six months ending in June this year.

Otim said that the bureau is in the process of cracking down on illegal SACCOs in order to safeguard savers from unscrupulous individuals.

“Notice is given to public and private entities that engage in any form of deposit-taking or SACCO business transactions with SACCOs that are not licensed: they are doing so at their own peril, and we will not be held accountable if the SACCOs disappear with their money,” he said.

He added that the law regulating the operation of Saccos makes it a criminal offense for any person to engage in SACCO business without a valid license from the authority.

“The has regulator cautioned such SACCOs, saying they face criminal proceedings for operating illegally and endangering members’ money. Those operating illegally face a fine of up to Shs 500, 000 or imprisonment for three years,” he added.

David Odora the Chegere Sub County male Councillor tasked SACCO leaders to ensure that their entities are quickly registered with the Registrar of Cooperatives to avoid risks. He also cautioned the public against saving and borrowing with unregistered SACCOs.

“How would you risk your money with unlicensed Saccos? Don’t throw your money in the rubbish pit by saving with some of these SACCOs that are not known by the government,” he said.

The Apac District Operation Wealth Creation Coordinator Col. Godfrey Okello appealed to Abulomogo’s members to be innovative and identify other income-generating projects to promote the progress of their SACCO.

“Save, borrow, pay, and above all think of other business ventures to develop your SACCO further,” he advised.

He also cautioned them to eschew the mismanagement of public funds and instead embrace transparency and accountability.

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