Oxfam aid at risk after Haiti scandal

Written By: James Douglas
Published: February 10, 2018 Last modified: February 10, 2018

The government is reviewing its work with Oxfam after the UK-based charity was accused of covering up the use of prostitutes by aid workers in Haiti.

The Department for International Development (DFID), which last financial year donated nearly £32 million, said the charity had to answer “serious questions”.

A DFID spokesman, referring to “appalling abuse of vulnerable people”, said the department acknowledged that hundreds of Oxfam staff had done nothing wrong, “but the handling by the senior team about this investigation and their openness with us and the charity commission showed a lack of judgement”.

He added: “We have a zero tolerance policy for the type of activity that took place in this instance, and we expect our partners to as well. We often work with organisations in chaotic and difficult circumstances. If wrongdoing, abuse, fraud, or criminal activity occur we need to know about it immediately, in full.”

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has requested a meeting with Oxfam’s senior team “at the earliest opportunity”.

Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring denied any cover-up, saying: “As we speak, aid workers, who are behaving well, are delivering lifesaving assistance with public money across the world and we should be proud of that, whilst we are ashamed of what we got wrong.”

Four staff members were dismissed and three, including the country director, were allowed to resign before the end of the investigation into the 2011 relief effort following the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in 2010.

The director was Roland Van Hauwermeiren who, it is alleged, used prostitutes at a villa rented for him by Oxfam.

And there are new allegations that the charity failed to alert other aid agencies about the staff members’ behaviour.

Andrew Mitchell, international development secretary in 2011, said it was a “shudderingly awful tale” that was “terrible on every single level”. But he said he could not recall being told about the incident when working at DFID.

An Oxfam spokeswoman said: “The behaviour of some members of Oxfam staff uncovered in Haiti in 2011 was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff. Our primary aim was always to root out and take action against those involved and we publicly announced, including to media, both the investigation and the action we took as a result.”