The Kitgum Savings and Credit Co-operative Organization (SACCO), is huge, comparable to others of its caliber countrywide. It is the biggest in the Northern Region, which has more than 200 SACCOs; and it even dwarfs its associates in the West Nile region.
The Kitgum SACCO has more than 17,000 members. These are spread in the four districts in the part of Northern sub-region that comprises of: Kitgum, Agago, Pader and Lamwo. The SACCO was formed and registered in 2001. Some of its members are outside the four districts and others still, in the Diaspora.
The rationale for its formation was to cater for the active members in those rural areas, who are the poor men, women and youth in those four districts. The Chairman of the Kitgum SACCO, Christopher Okema, says that the interest and functions of the SACCO are the, “Provision of quality financial services to the active people to redress their poverty.”
Okema adds that, going by that logic, it has achieved 70 % of its objectives. It has expanded to have branch networks in the districts it is operating in. It has also acquired property in the districts, like the plot on its headquarters in Kitgum Town, and another; and one plot in Lamwo District.
As a result, of its extensive financial activities, the Kitgum SACCO has a share capital of 2, 925, 833, 737 shillings, in its latest accounting. This is against a loan portfolio of 1, 389, 652, 992; while its share capital stands at 810, 440 shillings.
This comes out of a result of frugality in the management and its attendant supervision through its reporting to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Co-operatives (MoTIC); while its membership of the Uganda Co-operative Savings and Credit Union (UCSCU), in Kampala, gives it a financial cover.
That supervision is organized through its established supreme body, the annual general meeting (AGM), managed by a non-managerial staff of eight members of a board of directors.
All the members have various areas of educational and professional competence. Arising from this, the board has gone out of its way to recruit qualified staff to manage the various departments of the SACCO.
Such a competent department is the supervisory committee – SUCO – which is sanctioned by the AGM to carry out its work. This committee is chaired by the Internal Auditor, Susan Atimango, who supervises visits to various SACCO branches in the four districts.
Accordingly, these officials advise the members on the best “customer care” for their belonging to the SACCO. This has gone a long way to preventing the instances of defaulting on loan payments.
There are mainly two aspects of the SACCO operations: saving money and lending it out for the members to carry out their various activities. These are the small-scale agricultural production of the crops such as sim sim, peas, beans, groundnuts, potatoes, and such-like cultivated crops. The members also undertake small business activities like, running retail shops; keeping poultry, livestock (goats, pigs and cows); and, brewing drinks. The SACCO also lends to some civil servants, who are working in the Local Governments in those districts.
Atimango says that the SUCO goes around the districts in two-monthly periods to check on the accounting procedures they have put in place in order to recovery the lent money. The SUCO officers normally move on motor cycles in carrying out their duties. “At the end of the supervision, we call the staff members to discuss with them the issues they have faced and to correct such shortcomings immediately,” Atimango adds.
Yet, as a result of this extensive logistics in covering the large areas that involve the members in the four districts, Atimango says that it is not always possible to sort out all the issues in good time as there are delays, even sometimes, because of the problem of fuel for their motor-cycles. There are also other consequent problems of communication.
SACCO Chairman, Okema, says that this brings in a high cost to their operations; and eats into their portfolio of loan-able funding. To some extent, it also affects loan recovery, and creates difficulty in their financial services to the subsistence farming and small-scale business ventures.
Yet, he says, this is all the challenge of the “pioneer syndrome” which has fallen onto the shoulders of the Kitgum SACCO in this part of the Northern Region. For instance, the rapid succession of turnover impacts negatively; and is affecting the SACCO’s operating systems, especially where they are in the process of developing their computing system.
Even then, the Kitgum SACCO financial standing is boosted by its belonging to a number of national organizations and associations. An important one is UCSCU. To be sure, one Kitgum SACCO board member, Richard Ojara, is seconded to UCSCU as a representative in its meetings and activities. As a result Kitgum SACCO has “quality supervision” through this association.
Ojara says that as the apex SACCO in the region, “UCSCU gives some customized training to the Kitgum SACCO, where we benefit in various strategies, especially in managerial and credit enhancement.” For this, the Kitgum SACCO members contribute about two million shillings yearly to the UCSCU coffers. This money is approved by the AGM as a requirement for the KITGUM SACCO’s affiliation to UCSCU.
This goes in conjunction with both the Uganda Co-operative Alliance (UCA); and through seconding by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, PROFIRA – the Project for Financial Inclusion in Rural Areas, has had an exemplary relationship with Kitgum SACCO. Indeed when this reporter was working on this story, the chairman and a member of the board were in Gulu attending a week-long seminar organized by PROFIRA to fine-tune their credit and saving processes.
The Kitgum SACCO is also affiliated to Association for Micro-finance in Uganda (AMFIU), variously described as the best in Africa; the Uganda Central Co-operative Financial Services Limited; and, the Uganda Institute of Bankers. All these associations enhance the profile of Kitgum SACCO to access financial services and processes that in turn it extends the help its members to fight poverty through their respective agricultural activities and businesses. Through its parent body, the MoTIC, the Kitgum SACCO has put in place a strategic business plan which began in 2014 and is going through to 2019.