Oxfam released its internal report on the Haiti scandal Monday, exposing that the controversy enveloping the agency was deeper and more expansive than previously known.
In addition to the details already made public, the report states that allegations of fraud, negligence, sexual harassment, nepotism, and accessing pornography on an Oxfam computer led to four firings and three resignations.
The figure at the center of the controversy, Haitian country director Roland van Hauwermeiren, was allowed to make a “phased and dignified exit,” according to Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring in an interview published in Saturday’s Guardian.
The report’s most explosive revelation is that three employees in Haiti threatened a co-worker with physical violence in order to coerce the eyewitness into silence.
Oxfam perpetuated the silence by misleading UK government officials in order to preserve its share of foreign aid funds – which totaled £31.7 million (approximately $43.8 million U.S.) last year alone.
“We were categorically told there was no abuse of beneficiaries involved in the allegations,” said Michelle Russell, the UK Charity Commission’s director of investigations, monitoring, and enforcement. “Nor were we told that there were issues or possible issues around possible crimes, including those involving minors.”
Prime Minister Theresa May called the agency’s behavior “absolutely horrific” on Monday.
Despite the broad, deep, and variegated nature of its wrongdoing, Oxfam’s CEO said over the weekend that he is indignant – at the public’s reaction.
“The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?” Goldring asked incredulously.
“Certainly,” he continued, “the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability. I struggle to understand it.”
One puzzles at which is the bigger mystery: 1) why taxpayers would not object to being lied to about their compulsory funding of the potential sexual abuse of minors, aid workers using food as leverage to exploit vulnerable women, and witness intimidation, or 2) how their doing so is an “attack” upon Oxfam.
The report’s release follows an announcement Friday that the agency will not apply for government funding until UK officials are “satisfied that they can meet the high standards [they] expect of [government] partners” … after government officials strongly implied they would withdraw funding over previous malfeasance.
And on Monday, Oxfam announced that it has reported the malefactors’ names – which are redacted in the report – to Haitian authorities for potential prosecution … seven years after the fact.
This level of wrongdoing cannot be fixed by bureaucratic or procedural changes. “It was not just the processes and procedures of that organisation that were lacking but moral leadership,” said UK International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.
Those helping the poor must be motivated by the highest ethical standards, including promptly disclosing its workers’ legal infractions to all relevant authorities. Fear of losing government funding fueled a cover-up that enabled additional sexual abuse and exploitation around the globe.
At a minimum, Oxfam’s reaction demonstrates that the harmful effects of becoming dependent on government aid apply as much to its distributors as to its recipients.
(Photo credit: Oxfam East Africa. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 2.0.)