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    Friday, 16 February 2018

    Oxfam scandal: 'Charity staff lounged round luxury hotel pool with girls who looked 14 and 15’

    Oxfam unveiled an action plan Friday to tackle sexual misconduct following a prostitution scandal described as "a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years" by the charity's global chief.
    The organisation said it would create a commission which will "operate at arms-length from Oxfam" and be given access to the charity's records and interview staff in a bid to stamp out abuse.
    Oxfam will triple funding to more than $1 million to address safeguarding processes, while also doubling the number of staff in this area and increasing investment in gender training.
    The new plan comes a week after revelations that Oxfam staff used prostitutes while working on the aid operation following Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake.
    "What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.
    "From the bottom of my heart I am asking for forgiveness," she added.
    The charity has denied a lack of transparency over the Haiti affair, which has prompted a flight of supporters and led the British government to threaten cutting funds to organisations which cover-up sex scandals.
    Oxfam carried out its own internal investigation in 2011 which led to four employees being fired and three others being allowed to resign, including country chief Roland van Hauwermeiren.
    The prostitution allegations were not passed to Haitian authorities at the time of the probe, but Oxfam said Friday it had now passed on the names of the men involved.
    The charity admitted Thursday it rehired one of those sacked in Haiti just months later and is now checking whether any complaints were subsequently made.
    Gurpreet Singh worked as a consultant in Ethiopia from October to December 2011, a decision Oxfam said was "a serious error and should never have happened".
    The 2011 Haiti investigation will be published by the charity with names of witnesses redacted, while the new commission's record of historical cases of sexual misconduct will also be made public.
    Oxfam has come under fire for failing to inform other aid organisations of the allegations against its staff including van Hauwermeiren, whose behaviour working for Oxfam in Chad had already led to complaints.
    He went on to work for French charity Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh.
    "We need to make sure anyone guilty of such gross misconduct is not able to move between different organisations, exposing more vulnerable people to risk," said Byanyima.
    Another man involved in the Haiti scandal was later hired by CAFOD, which fired him on Wednesday. The charity said it had received a reference from someone claiming to be his former Oxfam boss, sent from a private email account.
    In response, Oxfam said it would create a global database of accredited referees to crack down on forged or unreliable references from past or current employees.
    Oxfam staff who were sent to the Philippines after a disaster spent weeks lounging round a luxury hotel pool with local girls who appeared underage, a British pilot has told the Standard.
    Chris Jacobs claimed guests at the five-star Marco Polo hotel on Cebu island were angry and disgusted by the sight of “older male staff” cavorting with girls who appeared to be only 14 or 15 years old.
    He said he even phoned Oxfam in the UK to complain about what he had seen at the hotel, where the cheapest rooms cost more than £100 a night.
    But he heard nothing back from the charity. The incident happened after Typhoon Yolanda left a trail of destruction in 2013 in the impoverished group of islands, sparking an international relief effort.Mr Jacobs, a 44-year-old commercial airline pilot, decided to move into the Marco Polo hotel with his wife Jo for a holiday as their home in Bantayan was without power.
    “We spent several weeks after the typhoon hit helping to clear up Bantayan, which was not one of the worst hit islands,” he said.
    “Once everyone was safe, and because the power supplies were still down, we decided to spend three weeks at the Marco Polo where we had stayed many times in the past. We were surprised to find a large contingent of Oxfam officials staying at the hotel. It is by far the best hotel in the area. They had brand-new Oxfam-branded vehicles in the car park but didn’t seem to travel to the areas that were badly hit.”Mr Jacobs said he was surprised to see about 20 people who he understood to be working for Oxfam at such a luxurious hotel where rooms cost between £101 and £138 a night — pricey by local standards — and suites cost £1,380 a night. He said only a few of them brought back local girls.
    “It was not in the area where the typhoon caused the worst damage and some of these Oxfam officials seemed to spend all their time by the pool with young local women. It was the older men who were the problem. A number of guests became upset because the girls looked 14 or 15. My wife Jo felt very uncomfortable about it. I telephoned Oxfam’s headquarters in Oxford shortly afterwards and told them what we had seen. I didn’t hear back from them.”Yesterday, a senior figure in Oxfam said she was aware of sexual abuse claims involving staff in the Philippines.  Lan Mercado, the charity’s Asia regional director, told the BBC that cases also took place in Bangladesh and Nepal before she took over as regional director in 2016. She said the scale of misconduct was “not comparable” to that in Haiti, where Oxfam faces claims that staff paid vulnerable people for sex. 
    Mr Jacobs claimed he also saw Oxfam officials put Oxfam stickers on tents that had been supplied by another charity, the Rotary Club of Great Britain, and then take photos as though the tents had been provided by Oxfam.
    This incident was said to have taken place at Hagnaya, in the north of Cebu island. “I was wandering around because there was a massive queue for the ferry when I saw this happen. Weeks later, we had some students who were with Rotary Club stay on our island and they were complaining that Oxfam workers had put stickers on tents that Rotary Club had put up.
    Penny Lawrence has resigned as Deputy Chief Executive of the charity saying she took "full responsibility" for the behaviour of staff in Chad and Haiti (PA)
    “These British students with Rotary Club were brilliant — they worked really hard to help people. So were the Red Cross and the United Nations teams. I didn’t see Oxfam do much except take photographs of ruined houses to help with the fundraising back home.”
    Mr Jacobs said guests believed the Oxfam officials were eventually asked to leave the Marco Polo because of the complaints from other residents. He called the charity twice, once at the time and again last week, when the allegations about aid workers paying for sex in Haiti surfaced.
    It is not known where the Oxfam officials in Cebu went next. But this week a Twitter user, Oli Craske, tweeted that after the Yolanda disaster he saw officials at a luxury hotel on a neighbouring island, Ormoc, in 2014. “Oxfam were holed up in most expensive hotel in town, with multiple 60k brand new vehicles outside that never went anywhere or got dirty,” he wrote. Stephen Twigg, chairman of the cross-party Commons select committee on international development, said: “These sorts of allegations raise serious concerns and require investigation.”The Standard asked Oxfam to comment on the claims about the luxury hotel, the girls and the stickers. A spokeswoman said Mr Jacobs’s concerns had been referred to the charity’s Safeguarding team, who were investigating. “While we can’t corroborate the allegations at this point, such behaviour is shocking and completely unacceptable,” she added.
    “We can find no record of the allegations being raised at Oxfam headquarters previously — we can only apologise for not doing so. We are also investigating how a call of such a serious nature was not recorded and not acted upon.  Such allegations should have been investigated immediately.”
    She said a check of records had found no evidence of staff staying at the Marco Polo “although staff may have visited the hotel”. Records however did show staff staying in two other “reasonably priced hotels” in Cebu.Oxfam said it was not aware of any of its stickers being placed on tents provided by the Rotary Club and “would never condone such action”.  Rotary said: “Given the nature of disaster relief efforts, it is impossible to say with any certainty if the tents in question were provided by Rotary or Oxfam.”
    The idea that a charity might put stickers on a “rival’s” aid is corroborated by Labour MP Peter Kyle, a former aid worker. On Facebook, he recounted how his charity delivered a shower unit to a refugee camp. “When we arrived a director of a famous charity came running over and said, ‘You can’t have that here, take it away, we are the lead charity and we won’t have something with your logo on it in case TV crews film here.’
    “I explained we didn’t care about logos ... and suggested he put his logos on instead ... we got the Ok to plaster our amazing shower unit with their logos.”

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