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The Oxfam scandal: a wider context

 

As a past Oxfam volunteer - with their five man emergency team in Cambodia in 1980 - subsequently becoming a trustee of Oxfam and Chair of its Asia committee back in the 1980s and early 1990s, I am naturally desperately distressed at hearing the revelations about the behaviour of staff during the emergency response to the Haiti earthquake and the allegations of sexual misconduct in Chad.

This is inexcusable and it has been good to hear the words of apology and the action that is being taken by Mark Goldring, the Director of Oxfam (the Haiti scandal did not take place under his watch), and the response of the present trustees of Oxfam.

But, we need to be careful and maintain a sense of balance and proportion.  It is easy to use these revelations - and it seems there may be others forthcoming involving other aid agencies - as an excuse to shout from the rooftops:  “Right that’s it! As far as I'm concerned the Government should not be spending 0.7% of its budget on international development much of which goes to the International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) when these guys are abusing recipients of the aid and any way they spend so much on administration!”

Let’s not forget that sadly every institution, whether Government itself (by its own admission), the Churches, our schools, our homes for the elderly or businesses, the film industry always have had and, realistically, will continue to have people who misbehave and bring those institutions into bad repute.

It is a sad and inevitable fact of life and no matter how many regulations and background checks you put in place, nothing will stop this from happening.  Let us also not forget that there will always be those who want to use these ghastly events precisely to bring these organisations into disrepute for their own ends.

“Motes and Beams” come to mind in this context.

If the INGOs are to be held to account by having their funding withdrawn, that will have a devastating impact on those who desperately need and currently get the support of these agencies.  These people include the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar now living in the most appalling conditions in camps in Bangladesh.

Also at risk will be the INGOs' long-term development work that is done in so many developing countries and which over the years has had such an impact.  I look to The Gambia as an example where the impact of INGOs has done so much for women’s empowerment, health and education over the 36 years that Marlborough people have been living and working in that country.

And while the Department for International Development may decide to withdraw funding for some INGOs, we should remember the Government’s arms sales of £1.1bn in 2017 to the Saudi Government whose forces are wreaking havoc and killing, it is estimated, 10,000 innocent people in Yemen, using the very arms that we - yes, you and I - have supplied and where (what irony!) Oxfam is doing incredible work supporting those who have been affected by the conflict.  We should be outraged by these arms sales!

The fact that the UK Government was the first Government in the world to apportion 0.7% of its GDP to international development is something of which we should be justifiably proud. It would be a tragedy if this inexcusable scandal involving a tiny minority was used as a lever to withdraw support for the vast numbers of people who are in such desperate need of our support not least the estimated sixty five million refugees worldwide.

 

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