Red Cross funding halted over smuggling allegations
Posted Wednesday, October 16 2013 at 01:00
Kampala- The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRS) has suspended aid to Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) following the ongoing smuggling controversy.
In an October 7 correspondence to the URCS administrative and management team, Mr Ricardo Conti, the head of the Geneva-Switzerland-based ICRS, warned that the continued “allegations and reference to the secretary general, Mr Michael Nataka, in the media, carries negative implications on the reputation of the body and its movement.”
Mr Conti advised. “The governance board of URCS to urgently constitute an internal investigation into the said allegations to ascertain their veracity or otherwise,” he added.
The development comes less than a month since Mr Nataka was thrust into the spotlight by tax officials on claims of smuggling goods worth Shs800 million, reportedly concealed as URCS property, with intent to avoid taxes.
The matter is currently under investigation by the police and Uganda Revenue Authority, although the governing board head, Mr Robert Ssebunya, defended Mr Nataka last week.
Similarly, the heads of Red Cross Societies of America, Belgium, Britain, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands and Sweden, in a joint October 10 statement, noted with “great concern” the gravity of these “tax evasion claims on the reputation” of the humanitarian body and overseas.
Also suggesting the constitution of an independent investigation, the heads noted that, “without this action, doubts-whether valid or not-will remain and continue to undermine the work of the society, and efforts of the movement in Uganda”.
“It is therefore with great sadness that we must now withhold the transfer of any further funds to [URCS] pending the launch of an immediate independent investigation into all allegations made in various media reports.”
The URCS president, Mr Tim Okello, yesterday said they would convene a senior administrative meeting on October 21 to contemplate on the issues raised by their funders.
Although Mr Okello could not fully establish how much in aid was cut, he said more than 80 per cent of their budget is donor-funded.