Over the last three years, Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) has been struggling to overcome the throes of a corruption scandal.
In March 2015, the URCS welcomed a new secretary general, Robert Kwesiga. His brief was to clean up the crisis. Since then, Kwesiga has been preoccupied with getting the URCS back on its feet; getting the organisation to deliver on its mandate.
“The crisis by and large is behind us but it is not over until all the loose ends are tied,” Kwesiga told The Observer, recently. “The big challenge remains with our debt portfolio. Over Shs 6bn is owed to government for failure to remit taxes, PAYE and VAT.”
Kwesiga is also trying to find a way around almost Shs 6bn, tied up in what he calls fictitious bank loans acquired through forged bank resolutions as well as colossal sums owed to statutory organizations like the National Social Security Fund and various private suppliers. The organisation is also battling with the case of huge sums of donor money, picked from accounts and misused.
“In total, we are talking of over $10m, which translates to Shs 26 billion,” he explains.
The URCS has been battling to pay off the bank loans, by selling off their former head office building along Lumumba avenue in Nakasero.
Due to the goodwill, the URCS has been involved in various interventions, including assisting members of the public.
Currently, their biggest mandate is dealing with the ongoing refugee crisis in northern and western Uganda as well as supporting the blood donation drive across the country. Kwesiga explains that he is working to ensure the Red Cross improves its financial standing.
“We have to make Ugandans own it because relying on donor support makes it vulnerable in the context that donors come and go,” Kwesiga says.
Kwesiga is not new to the URCS, having served it in various capacities since 1991, rising up to the position of secretary general in 1999. He held the position for five years before he joined the International Federation of Red Cross in Geneva in 2005, serving for two years, before being posted to be Southern Africa regional head of the Danish Red Cross for six years, starting in 2007.
His base in Harare saw Kwesiga enrolling for a PhD at the University of Zimbabwe.