The only surprise is that it has come as a surprise. I refer to the revelation that senior aid workers for Oxfam in earthquake-ravaged Haiti had indulged in orgies with prostitutes (some of them, allegedly, children).
Nor should it have come as a surprise that Oxfam’s bosses gently eased out those involved but told no one — not the Charities Commission, nor the Department for International Development (which hands it well over £30 million of taxpayers’ money a year) — that the man in charge of its Haiti operations, Roland van Hauwermeiren, had used his organisational skills to set up what were described, disgustingly, as ‘young meat barbecues’.
In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr yesterday, the Secretary of State for International Development (DfID), Penny Mordaunt, asked about what amounted to a cover-up, declared: ‘I don’t know what Oxfam’s motivation was for behaving in this way.’
Pictured: Roland van Hauwermeiren, 68, who admitted to having sex with vulnerable prostitutes at his Oxfam villa
Really? Unless she is shatteringly naïve, it must be obvious to Ms Mordaunt why Oxfam told no one exactly why its most senior man on the ground in Haiti and a number of his colleagues had been ‘let go’.
It was for the same reason that in the 1980s both the Catholic and Anglican Churches had covered up sexual abuse by their own clerics. They wanted to protect the reputation of their organisations — and that was much more important to them than honesty.
But Oxfam brushed its scandal under a carpet of euphemisms and dissembling as recently as 2011: it is far from historic.
And in Oxfam’s case, it is also about money. You might think the charitable world is gentle. In reality, the big charities are in a ferocious competition with each other to persuade governments and individual donors that they are the most deserving recipients.
They call themselves ‘the humanitarian community’ but they are as unscrupulous as any commercial business when it comes to competing for the public’s cash.
I got an inkling of this after a friend who ran a charity told me she had been about to sign a contract with a printing firm for thousands of leaflets, when the printer called to say that the deal was off … because he also printed leaflets for a much larger charity in the same field, and it had told him that if he did a deal with her, then it would take its business elsewhere.
In fact, such charities often behave much worse than profit-making enterprises, because they believe that everything they do is sanctified by being in a noble cause.
This is not the only reason why I say that the revelations about Oxfam should have come as no surprise. A brave and brilliant Dutch journalist, Linda Polman, gave chapter and verse on the scandalous behaviour in aid charities, including their use of child prostitutes, in her remarkable book, War Games: The Story Of Aid And War In Modern Times, published in 2010.
Chief executive Mark Goldring (pictured) apologised on behalf of the organisation
Polman, who had been based in a number of African countries, wrote: ‘The humanitarian aid community that travels to war-torn crisis-riven countries feels no embarrassment about looking like an international jet-set on holiday.
‘Its Land Cruisers can be found triple-parked outside the restaurants, bars and discos of war-ravaged towns and cities every evening. Wherever aid workers go, prostitution instantly soars.
‘I’ve often seen bar stools occupied by white agronomists, millennium-objective experts or gender-studies consultants with local teenage girls in their laps.
‘I’ve known aid workers who cared for child soldiers and war orphans by day and relaxed by night in the arms of child prostitutes.’
Polman was interviewed by the Left-wing newspaper, The Observer, the year her book came out.
When its interviewer put it to her that ‘it’s neither shocking nor sinister that humanitarians are also human: they also need to relax after work, sometimes in a bar’, she retorted ferociously: ‘I think it’s shocking and sinister if aid workers engage in child prostitution… I do know of cases where aid organisations knew that employees were engaged in this and they decided to smother the case.’
This, presumably, included Oxfam.
My advice to Ms Mordaunt is to use a minuscule proportion of her generous budget to pay Polman to come here to play a role in any DfID investigation.
The Dutchwoman clearly knows more than the civil servants in Whitehall, none of whom, I’d wager, have anything like her experience of what really goes on outside the sanitised and self-serving reports of sanctimonious aid organisations.
This is a much more important matter than just the personal excesses of aid executives, who spend more in an African bar in one night than the individuals working in it could earn in a month.
If the international aid business were a fabulous success, lifting millions out of poverty and bringing peace and harmony where none existed before, then, frankly, it would deserve our indulgence.
But it isn’t, and it doesn’t.
Polman’s wider charge is that billions of pounds in international aid budgets have been wildly misspent, vacuumed up by government kleptocrats or local fixers in the recipient countries.
Here is what she witnessed in Liberia: ‘Medical INGOS [international non-government organisations] had arranged for a batch of wheelchairs to be flown in to ease the suffering of local war invalids.
Three Oxfam employees were allowed to resign and four were sacked for gross misconduct after an internal investigation found some workers had used prostitutes in the war-torn region (file photo)
‘The chairs turned up in the streets of Monrovia [the capital] modified into ice-cream carts and mobile shops. Vendors who had nothing wrong with their legs were using the chairs, while amputees and cripples were dragging themselves on their hands and knees on the filthy streets.
‘Local government workers had distributed the wheelchairs among their own kith and kin, who in turn had rented them out to small-time entrepreneurs.’
This illuminates a vital point. It is not aid that will transform the living standards of those in the most impoverished nations, but the elimination of corruption and the opening of trade with the developed world. In other words, full participation in the market economy.
It is precisely this which has already lifted billions out of poverty.
But that is the opposite of Oxfam’s philosophy. In recent years it has delivered a starkly anti-capitalist message, suggesting that all that is required is for more tax to be paid by high-earning people in this country … to be given to Oxfam to spend.
Yet the British people have already been co-opted to an extraordinary extent by the Oxfam agenda, as a result of legislation passed during the period of the previous Coalition government.
We are now committed to spending the equivalent of 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product on international aid — over and above whatever individuals choose to pay in the form of charitable donations (in which the British are already among the most generous in the world).
This commitment — which amounts now to £13.5 billion a year — actually encourages waste, as the civil servants’ principal target is not so much absolute need, but the (vast) amount to spend.
And we have hugely increased the amount going out in so-called ‘multilateral aid’ — which means our own government can’t even control how British taxpayers’ money is spent.
In September, when Hurricane Irma laid waste to British Overseas Territories such as Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, it emerged that we couldn’t direct any of our aid budget to assisting those made homeless because international rules decreed these territories were ‘too rich’ to be allowed as recipients.
Yet still Ms Mordaunt insisted yesterday that our aid budget of £13.5 billion — and growing — can be justified in its entirety.
She told Andrew Marr that it made ‘Britain more prosperous’, and that it ‘alleviated pressure on the NHS’.
I would have thought a better way of alleviating pressure on the NHS — and on the social care budget which our oldest and most disabled depend upon — would be for that money to go directly to them.
The problem is that Ms Mordaunt has to pretend that her entire budget ‘could not be better spent in the national interest’: statute, absurdly, now decrees it would be illegal for her to reduce it below 0.7 per cent of GDP, no matter how badly it is being spent.
So don’t expect Oxfam to be detached from the taxpayers’ teat.
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