Oxfam: double standards and wages of arrogance

Published: 00:05, Feb 14,2018 | Updated: 23:45, Feb 13,2018


Oxfam’s chief executive Mark Goldring, left, and Oxfam’s chair of trustees Caroline Thomson leave the Department for International Development in central London on February 12. Oxfam announced a new raft of measures to tackle sexual abuse cases after being ordered to meet the British government to explain its handling of a 2011 prostitution scandal involving its aid workers in Haiti. — Agence France-Presse/Daniel Leal-Olivas

OXFAM’S recent woes over sex parties in the earthquake-ravaged Haiti in 2011 with victim-hookers which the outfit did try to conceal as now everyone admits, including senior Oxfam staff, has led to global anger. In a bizarre explanation, its current CEO Mark Goldring has said that more disclosure at the time of the event would have brought attention that would not be positive.
This allowed the man in question, the country manager Roland van Hauwermeiren, the man who organised sex parties there and elsewhere, to resign with others and token sacking of a few lower staff. Now after exposure, its deputy CEO Penny Lawrence has resigned after taking personal responsibility which smells of trying to save further damage to the non-governmental organisation.
The incident shows how sleaze hides behind the world of do-gooding. Many in the charity world, including the UN agencies, claim impunity and higher moral ground because they are charity organisations from the west. They are all ‘high and mighty’ and better than the people they claim to serve.

Protective of sex abusers
The story of the main abuser Roland van Hauwermeiren does not end here. He continued to work in the international NGO world and was Action Against Hunger’s country director in Bangladesh from August 6, 2012 to August 5, 2014. It is stated that when AAH asked for a reference check, Oxfam gave it a positive one. This will need investigating.
The problem with the international charity world has always been the same — the self-imaging as saviour of the poor in the developing world. It is not that they are insincere but that they have a high sense of entitlement. This has led to the breeding of values that has contributed to the scandal which has exploded seven years after the deed was done with agency accepting complicity in hiding it.
Holding sex parities in the midst of an earthquake that literally killed hundreds and thousands of people has an air of obscenity that is unmatched. Granted that such parties are common in the west but when it is being done where people are suffering and dying all around means the charity and do-gooding for many are a sham, an opportunity for mediocre people from the west to lead a good life.
The slogan has always been that the developing world’s insensitivity to pain and suffering has birthed the western charity sector. But the fake justification of this argument is proved once more. Yet this example shows that Oxfam allowed a man who is supposed to have acted in complete opposition to its stated principles to get away. His resignation was a favour to himself and Oxfam.
By never fully disclosing, Oxfam avoided the fact that the sex workers hired for the party were quake victims. We do not know if only have the abusers word that they were so but it could be even worse that is it was a ‘sex-in- exchange-for-relief’ scenario. Of course, the abusers which institutionally include Oxfam are naturally expected to hide facts. So how can one be sure? It knew the man was a serial sex party with victims’ organiser in Chad before that, but he was still sent to Haiti. Till proven innocent, Oxfam will be presumed guilty for sexually exploiting vulnerable quake and conflict victims.
Sex seems to be a powerful motivation for some at least, if not more, to enter into charity work overseas. Many work in difficult areas where oversight is often difficult, if not impossible, hence taking the chance. Now, the British government has admitted the fact and is trying to explore. This includes accusations of child sex abuse. The link between sex and charity cannot be ignored.
Their sleazy life is none of our business but it becomes so when it affects victims. What was Roland doing or did in Bangladesh should be investigated.

‘This will pass’
OXFAM is now facing a tough time as the British government has sought all the documents relating to the Haiti scandal. It has also begun a scrutiny into the next fund release. Oxfam has agreed to cooperate but its image is permanently tarnished.
Samphey Lhalungpa, a retired UN worker as well who has worked for the international development world, speaks for the many who have worked in that world says the following:
‘Humanitarian entitlement and small cozy networks at the top that buttress and support each other… reputations that are often based on frail evidence and in some cases lifted from the work of their junior team members — have had this happen to me and seen it happen to others. But it’s the same in most cozy closed loop orgs and groups. No real oversight and in many cases the folks so exploited do not seem to count… I am neither shocked nor surprised… the hullabaloo will pass and we will move on to other things… structural changes… HR practices need to change… otherwise the cycles repeat.’
That the snivelling donor from the west can do no wrong must end.

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.

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