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Oxfam boss Mark Goldring ‘sorry’ over Haiti scandal

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Media captionMark Goldring: ‘We are sorry for the damage done to Haiti and the wider aid efforts’

Oxfam’s chief executive Mark Goldring has said he is sorry for the damage the charity has done to the people of Haiti and the wider efforts of aid workers.

He is facing questions from MPs on the International Development Committee about the sexual misconduct of some staff after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

In 10 days, 7,000 people have cancelled regular donations, MPs were told.

Mr Goldring also apologised for remarks made about murdering babies in cots which he made in defending Oxfam.

In an interview with the Guardian last week, he said: “The intensity and ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do? We murdered babies in their cots?”

Mr Goldring, who joined the charity in 2013, said he was “deeply sorry” for the comments that he had made while “under stress”.

  • LIVE: MPs question charity bosses
  • How the Oxfam scandal unfolded

Earlier this month, the Times newspaper published allegations that Oxfam aid workers in Haiti had used prostitutes.

Oxfam, which has almost 10,000 staff working in more than 90 countries, denied a cover-up but its handling of the scandal is being investigated by the Charity Commission.

Since the story broke, Mr Goldring said 26 reports of recent and historic incidents have been made by Oxfam workers – 16 of them outside the UK.

Of the scandal, he said: “I am sorry, we are sorry, for the damage Oxfam has done both to the people of Haiti but also to wider efforts for aid and development by possibly undermining public support.”

He denied there had been a cover-up, saying Oxfam had been trying to deliver a huge programme with 500 staff and his predecessors would have believed they were making the right decision at the time. “I don’t defend that decision,” he said.

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AFP

Image caption

Winnie Byanyima said she was ashamed by what happened in Haiti

Mr Goldring told MPs that at the time of the original investigation, Oxfam issued a press release revealing its findings of “serious misconduct” involving bullying, intimidation and breaches of the charity’s code of conduct – but did not mention sexual exploitation.

“At the time, people thought that was being transparent. We know now that that was not enough,” said Mr Goldring.

“I suspect there was a balance of saying ‘Oxfam is delivering life-saving assistance to a million people in Haiti. We have got to keep that work going’.”

He added that Oxfam had wrongly believed it was being proactive. “Not every organisation chooses to tell the public about something they got wrong,” he said.

Caroline Thomson, the chair of trustees, and Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, both told the committee they were “ashamed” of what happened in Haiti.

Ms Byanyima said she has spent her life protecting women. “This is painful for me,” she added.

Ms Thomson, who became chairwoman of Oxfam’s trustees in 2017, said the charity council’s task was to ensure it is “never again” at risk of being perceived to have put reputation over accountability.

Mr Goldring said there was now a safeguarding team and helpline at Oxfam and the charity was seeking more independent support.

Committee chairman Stephen Twigg said his committee would conduct a full inquiry into sexual misconduct in the aid sector in the wake of the scandal.

‘Bullying and intimidation’

A redacted version of an internal report from 2011, released on Monday, revealed that three of the men accused of sexual misconduct in Haiti physically threatened witnesses during an investigation.

It also showed:

  • One Oxfam employee was dismissed and three resigned for using prostitutes on Oxfam premises. The use of underage prostitutes was not ruled out
  • Two more were dismissed for bullying and intimidation – one of whom also downloaded pornography
  • Another man was sacked for failing to protect staff

During the committee hearing, it emerged that one of them was re-employed for Oxfam on a short-term contract in another country.

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VRT

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Mr Van Hauwermeiren worked in Chad from 2006-09 before going to Haiti in 2010

In the report, the charity said director of operations in Haiti, Roland Van Hauwermeiren, “admitted using prostitutes” at his Oxfam residence. Last week, he denied paying prostitutes for sex.

He was granted a “phased and dignified exit” and was allowed to resign, the report added, so long as he fully co-operated with the rest of the 2011 investigation.

It is not known if he was one of the suspects accused of threatening witnesses.

The BBC has discovered that one of the staff dismissed from Oxfam for gross misconduct in Haiti was Raphael Mutiku, a Kenyan aid worker based outside the capital Nairobi.

Asked by a reporter whether he had been with Mr Van Hauwermeiren, Mr Mutiku said “no”. As he got into a vehicle, he was asked why he had been let go by Oxfam but not did not answer.

‘Smorgasbord of women’

A source, who was aware of the investigation and was in Haiti at the time, told the BBC that drivers were forced to deliver prostitutes to Oxfam villas.

“They were having parties over there that were described as orgies with a smorgasbord of women, girls, wearing Oxfam T-shirts. It would go on all night.

“We were told they were underage. The security guards, the drivers were talking about it not directly – indirectly – because if they talked to anyone about it they would lose their jobs.”

The report called for tighter safeguarding across the industry to stop disgraced aid workers moving to new posts.

In the wake of the revelations, MPs on the international development committee convened an urgent session to investigate the crisis.

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Oxfam has said it released the internal report because it wanted to be “as transparent as possible” about decisions made.

On Monday, Oxfam regional director for Latin America Simon Ticehurst presented the original, unedited report to the government in Haiti and formally apologised.

Oxfam has said it will set up a commission to investigate past and present allegations of exploitation by staff.

Its deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, resigned earlier this month over the handling of the scandal, saying she took full responsibility.

Meanwhile, ministers have said Oxfam has agreed to stop bidding for UK government funding until it can show it meets the “high standards” required.


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