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Millennium Post

Shame and scandal

Shame and scandal
There is no gainsaying that social service and charity organisations, such as the internationally acclaimed Oxfam, are considered above board in their planning and action. Their voluntary workers are virtually role models. Hence, a recently published report alleging sexual misconduct by seven of their staff in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, has come as a shock to many, making stark international headlines. Small wonder then that the United Kingdom's Department for International Development sharply criticised the charity and demanded that Oxfam's senior officials meet with it to explain their actions relating to the sexual misconduct scandal. The agency, which gave £31.7 million ($55.2 million) to Oxfam last year, demanded answers to explain their actions."If wrongdoing, abuse, fraud or criminal activity occurs, we need to know about it immediately, in full," the agency said. "The way this appalling abuse of vulnerable people was dealt with raises serious questions that Oxfam must answer." The allegations against seven former Oxfam staff in Haiti included the use of prostitutes, some of whom may have been under 18 years of age, and downloading pornography. It is also alleged that the charity's investigation into the charges was hampered by a "determination to keep it out of the public eye." Oxfam said it had investigated the allegations as early as in 2011. It confirmed that it had dismissed four people and allowed three others to resign in the case after an investigation uncovered offences including sexual misconduct, bullying, intimidation and failure to protect staff. The charity said it had reported the results of its investigation to Britain's charity regulator and to major donors, including the Department for International Development. The charity commission demanded further information last weekend, saying it had "made no mention of any potential sexual crimes involving minors. Our approach to this matter would have been different had the full details that have been reported been disclosed to us," the commission said. The answer? "Our behaviour in Haiti was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff." The charity was forced to deny further reports that it gave positive references to those it dismissed. It went on to add that some former workers may have falsified references or asked individual staff members to provide references, but said it could not prevent such actions. That such misdeeds should have eventually been exposed is tantamount to shame and scandal for an international charity with a distinguished reputation. In ensuring there is no recurrence of similar deeds by similar charities functioning around the world, the strongest possible lesson must be meted out.
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